Say “Yes” in your 20s and “No” in your 30s.

My mom called me recently and told me that my aunt cried on her 30th birthday. Not me. I’m a single woman who just turned 30 and I’m not crying. In fact, I know this will be my best year yet.

This optimism stems from a lifetime of introspection and self-development that’s clarified who I am and what I need.

I kicked off my 20s with a year full of “yes”. That year I said, “yes” to almost everything that piqued my interest. When someone asked me to travel to Europe, Africa, Asia, New Zealand, I said, “yes!” without any hesitation. When my friend, Lena, asked if I wanted to ride my bike across the country with a dancing monkey and a lap harp (or some instrument), I said, “yes!” to that too. I drove to Big Sky 10 hours each way for one day of skiing, bungee jumped naked off of a bridge in Canada and bummed showers and tent space from strangers in grocery stores.

As a result, I have traveled the world, met amazing people, hitch hiked, stayed in a brothel in Thailand, rode my bike more than 7000 miles, survived an oven explosion, and almost been attacked by a hippopotamus.

It was a period of unfettered exploration, which continued throughout my 20s and led to many many learnings. I wouldn’t trade a single one of these experiences for anything.

Adjacent to these constructive, life-defining experiences, I’ve had some antithetical ones as well. Friends took me for granted, I stayed with boyfriends for 5 years too long, worked shit jobs, and gave my time and energy to innumerable strangers who didn’t deserve it and didn’t recognize the gifts I offered.

Alas, this is what our 20s are for; to trial many possible life paths and make mistakes in service of deep self-discovery and to figure out what is right for us.

As I transition into my 30s, I find myself more fully aware of the inefficient nature of “YES” in consonance to the unqualified power of “NO”.

So, to bookend my 20s I’m closing my decade of “yes” and kicking it off with a year of “no”. Saying “no” for me now is a bit like exhaling. It’s almost as if I spent all of my 20s in one long inhale. Now, I want to say “No” to the time-wasters, un-appreciators, stick-in-the-muds, and certainly any experience that limits my productivity, growth and are misaligned with my values. I will say “No” to anything that does not build me up, speed me forward, help me discover my love, or change the world for the better.

In fact, I might have started my year a bit prematurely… This year, I’ve already quit two jobs, and said “no” to several others. I’ve said “no” to a number of fun and interesting, but not-quite-right relationships, and said “no” to calling people who don’t call me back. “No” allows for me to build agency and to be in the driver’s seat of my life.

It took awhile to get here, but I believe that saying “no” will make space in my life so that I may say, “yes” to what’s most important. I want to engage in purposeful and creative work and spend time with self-aware and generous people.

In the context of running a company, this skill has become critical. Before stepping into leadership with Project Atlas, it seemed entirely possible to meet every person who asked for coffee, accomplish innumerable daily tasks, and take on any interesting project. Now, it’s clear that it’s not possible and in regards to my time, I must be discerning.

Leaning in to my unexpected role as a leader, I’ve had no choice but to embrace “no” as a personal and professional routine.

Say “no” to advice that doesn’t fit my life vision and values
Say “no” to collaborators who don’t share or constructively challenge my vision
Say “no” to attending events that don’t double my energy and opportunities
Say “no” to sleep disrupters
Say “no” to chocolate chip cookies…most of the time

In short, saying “no” is has two main benefits: Becoming a more purposeful and effective leader and centered and healthy person. “No”, is showing me that improvements in my personal life = improvements in my business and visa versa.

Warren Buffet nicely articulated the potential benefit of my new habit this way, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything”.

I’m pretty sure I started preparing for this the day I turned 2 and began practicing the word “no”. Although 2-year-old “no”, was expressed as an act of resistance and differentiation, the 30-year-old “no” is in service of making space for me in my personal life and in my business.

I feel there will not be enough years in my life for me to see and do and be everything I want to. Therefore, I have not a minute to spare for the next 60 or so years. I sincerely promise, to myself, that I will not waste my time, energy or attention. So this year I will say “No” so that I may say, “Yes!”

Kari Sulenes