• A D Ackerman

The Power, the Magic of "NO"

Multiple signs with the word NO in capital letters, black on beige
Photo credit, Canva, 2021
During a recent conversation with some coach colleagues, we discussed times in our lives when saying "NO" to an opportunity or expectation led to some unexpected but wonderful outcomes.

I am not talking about the way a toddler says “NO” to everything good for them, but a considered “NO” that leads to opportunities that may have been otherwise unattainable.

I recently discovered that describing to others the times that I said: “NO” to what others were expecting of me, the times that I resisted the conventional “wisdom” of my life and times has proven to be inspirational to others. Previously, I avoided talking too much about my past, as I didn’t want others to think that I was using my previous experiences to encourage others to feel sorry for me or to think I did something extraordinary. Yet, I now know that if I share with you a bit of my “back story,” you will understand me better, and you will “get” what continues to motivate me today.

On a morning in mid-June, when I was nine years old, I got out of bed and wandered into the kitchen, where I found my mother sitting at the table surrounded by a bunch of papers, a checkbook, and a pen. She was crying and didn’t notice my arrival. “What’s wrong, Mom?” She stared at me for a while and then replied: “I have no idea how to write a check. Your Dad always did it.” And she continued to weep, shaking her head in bewilderment. I stood there for a while, wanting to comfort her but not knowing how.

You see, my Dad had died suddenly several weeks before, and my mom and I were thrust into this unknown world without the man upon whom we both depended. It was at that moment that I said my first definitive and intentional “NO.”

I told myself as I stood helplessly at the kitchen table: “I will NOT grow up and allow myself to be dependent on some man for my happiness and safety.”
Yup. I was nine. My life changed forever from what it might have been if life had gone as planned or as foretold by my parents.

My mom eventually overcame her feelings of inadequacy, which taught me a lot about resilience (that is another story). She only had an 8th-grade education but went out and learned to be a hairdresser and was able to work to support us both as I lived a relatively typical older childhood and adolescent life. There were likely some minor “NOs” on my part as I got older, but none that I clearly remember.

The next big “NO” came in my senior year of high school. My mom was shocked when she learned that I was applying to colleges. She told me that as her daughter, I was obliged, as was the custom in Italian-American families at that time, to get a job so that I could support her as she got older. I could NOT leave her to attend college. What would happen to her?

I think that was the hardest “NO” I ever uttered. “No, Mom,” I said. “If I go to college, I can get a better job and support you much better than I can with just a high school diploma.” The look she gave me was simultaneously one of incredulity and acknowledgment. She realized I was serious. At that moment, I promised myself that I would go further than anyone else in my family had ever gone. I would “make it,” even though I had no idea what “make it” meant.

From that point onward, it seemed like my life was a succession of “NOs.”

- I said “NO” to my guidance counselor, who thought I should only apply to colleges I could afford to attend (and I ended up getting a scholarship and work-study grant to what is now my undergraduate alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College-to whom I am forever grateful).
- I said “NO” to my first husband (whom I married unfortunately during my sophomore year in college). And I re-asserted my determination to be an independent woman.
- I said “NO” to my med school associate dean, who wanted me to quit school for a few years so I could get a job and earn money to continue attending medical school. Instead, I figured out a way to borrow from my soon-to-be “ex.”
- I said “NO” to the head of neurosurgery at my med school, who wanted me to enter neurosurgical residency training there.

And many, many more over the following years (let me know if you want to hear about the rest of them).

Of course, interspersed with the “NOs” were plenty of “YESes.”

You can’t only ever say “NO” and expect good things to happen. When you turn away from something, you have to turn TOWARD something better.

Thus, the question becomes: “How do you know when and where to position the “NO” so you can say “YES” to the thing that will move you forward?”

“YES” in my case has always been a little bit scary. I have said “NO” to most of the easiest things and “YES” to most of the things that are a little or A LOT harder. I have said “YES” to trusting myself and my intuition. I said YES almost 40 years ago to the most wonderful man in the world, with whom I made a life that I love. I have said “YES” to maintaining integrity while saying ”NO” to easier ways to make more money or garner more notoriety.

What about now?
- I am saying “NO” to healthcare systems that are blaming healthcare workers for their own burnout.
- I am saying “NO” to those who want to blame the victims.
- I am saying “NO” to systems that think something is wrong with their employees because they are not resilient enough, tough enough, compliant enough to stay well through the challenges of providing healthcare in today’s environment.
I am saying “NO” to the status quo and “YES” to empowering our healthcare providers to say “NO” to perpetuating the systems that are destroying them.

This is why I am using my coaching skills to help heal the healthcare system from the inside out.

I am wondering about you. What have you said "NO" to in your life that resulted in an unforeseen benefit?
What would you like to say "NO" to but haven't been able to muster the courage yet?
And how can I help? Let me know in the comments, below.

Thanks for reading. I value your time and am honored you chose to spend the last few minutes reading this post. I hope it provided value for you. If so, I would appreciate it if you would share it with someone who might also find it of value.

I would love to hear from you. Please come find me on LinkedIn. Or send me an email at

To add more value to your life ask yourself this question every day: What choice can I make and action can I take in this moment to create the greatest net value? Then take the free VQ (value quotient) assessment to start your journey with Axiogenics, and learn how to consistently play your "A" game.