By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 1, 2012
Ask me what I envy most about people who have lots of money. My answer: “I’m jealous that they have secretaries to say no for them.”
Saying no is hard for me. Always has been. It’s hard for a lot of people. Maybe we want to be thought of as nice guys. Maybe we remember people turning us down when we asked them for help, and we don’t want to be that kind of person when other people ask us. Maybe we truly have empathy for the plight of whoever is asking us for something. Maybe we really do want to help. We don’t want to turn a deserving individual away.
But you can’t be a pro if you can’t say no.
Bottom line for me: we can do it nicely, but we have to learn to say no.
As artists and entrepreneurs, what capital do we possess? Time. That’s all we’ve got.
We have to protect that time.
I’ll tell you the truth. When some people call me and ask me to lunch, in my heart I’d like to murder them. To drag me out from noon to two is to steal my day. I know the person asking doesn’t realize this. I know there’s no way I can explain it without sounding like a total sonofabitch. But that’s the truth. I’m working! I’ve got stuff to do. I can’t sit around shooting the shit over margaritas. Forget about it.
You and I live in a different universe from most people. We’re like pregnant women. Our interior planets rotate around a singular sun, and that sun is our work—the project or projects that we are giving birth to. That work takes precedence over everything except kids’ soccer games and all-out emergencies.
Sometimes even our spouses don’t understand this.
Are we crazy? You’ve read the same articles I have in the Sunday supplements that say on your deathbed you never regret the days you didn’t go in to the office. Bullshit. That’s not my world. I do regret those days. Norman Mailer toward the end of his life was asked if he had any regrets. The interviewer expected, I imagine, an answer like, “I wish I’d spent more time with my kids.” Instead Mailer said, “I have three or four more books in my head; I wish I had written them.”
Was he crazy? No. He’s just like you and me. He had babies inside him and he wanted to give birth.
So I’ll make you a deal. If you ask me to lunch and I respectfully decline, please don’t take it personally. I won’t be offended if you do the same to me. I understand. You’re working. You’re crazy. You’re just like me.