Saying Yes To One Means Saying No To Many


“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

– Steve Jobs

I’ve been thinking about this idea that most of what’s happening currently to me results from saying no to many things over the years.

Steve Jobs’s quote pretty much sums up everything.

Many would say that it’s easy for Jobs to come up with such a quote since he’s so successful.

But look at the people around us whom we look up to, not the ultra high profile figure heads, but those we personally know.

They’ve come so far today because of their decision to wake up every day and put in the hours of work in one single thing while most of us are scrolling through social media and idling our time away.

Of course, that’s not to say that spending time to do nothing is bad, but let’s admit it, some of us have idled years of our youth away just with a blink of the eye.

I, too, have squandered my youth on a gaming addiction and social media obsession before, and I think of that as a lesson learned.

What I’ve said no to in my career

I can’t imagine where I would be now if I didn’t recognise my experience as a mediocre editor and writer back in my previous workplace couldn’t get me a decent content job.

Sure, I could have gotten lucky and wound up in a copywriting role or something. But the downside was so much more.

I eventually took the plunge and got into a role I never dreamed I would grow to enjoy – an account management or client success position.

Fast forward 2.5 years later, I’ve learned so much more in this position than I’ve in any 2.5-year period in my life.

I recently learned about “spontaneous order” or “self-organisation” from Zat Rana, one of my favourite writers online, on his blog’s discussion thread.

My comment was very lengthy but his reply sums it up very well – “intention as momentum, spontaneous as evolution”.

What’s important is the intention and showing up, everything else will follow through as long as we commit to our intention.

What I’ve said no to in my free time

I haven’t mentioned this before in the past but there was a short period of four months or so during my national service days where I went night clubbing almost every Saturday.

When I look back, it was expensive and damaging to my health, and I often felt like shit after staying up the entire night just for the thrills.

In return, I said yes to fitness activities, specifically yoga and spinning, although the latter is out of the question now because of COVID-19.

Also, staying in touch with writing, enjoying movies and TV series with some slight occasional binges.

I say no to many other activities as well – gaming, late night drinking, supper gatherings, mini gambling sessions, among many others.

I still try my best to hang out with friends and colleagues, but my priorities still lie at home.

What I’ve said no to in my relationships

Like everyone, I’ve had my fair share of toxic friends, people who suck the life out of me and prevent me from doing anything beneficial for myself and the people around me.

Over the years, I’ve cut out many of these people, either that or I gradually reduced my exposure until I naturally fade away from their lives.

There are many people we can help at this moment, but the question is at what cost?

I found it hard to pull myself away from someone who needs help and is right in front of me.

I’ve learned that to help others, you have to help yourself first. And that’s not easy to accept sometimes because it can mean abandoning that person there and then.

Some people around you might judge you for it, but the mature ones will recognise your intentions and reasons – there’s no honour in falling into a pit with another person just out of sympathy.

What will you say no to?

This is more of a note to self but if it helps you too: what will you say no to in your life so you can say yes to something that really matters now and in the future?

I’ve also found out that sometimes the inability to say no to 1,000 things so that you can yes to one is the unwillingness to let go.

But remember this quote from a marketing and business guru of our times:

“The only thing worse than starting something and failing… is not starting something.”

– Seth Godin

About the author

Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.



Vance Wong

Brain-picker. Cinephile. Koreaboo.