Define Your Priorities to Make Better Decisions

Multiple arrow road sign.jpg

My client gave permission to write about our coaching session. Her name and any identifying information have been changed.

Kate spent the first decade of her marriage caring for an ailing husband, raising her children and working part time. After a divorce, she then juggled working to get a big promotion while being a single mom with sole custody. With her children leaving home, Kate finally has the opportunity to put herself first.

A Decision to Make

“What would be the most helpful to talk about today?” I asked.

“I have to make a decision within the next 48 hours about running for the presidency of a professional organization. I feel 90% sure that I shouldn’t take this on. I have a very busy fall schedule with lots of travel for work. I just hired a trainer and signed up for a weight loss program, so I’m finally focusing on myself. With my youngest heading off to college this fall, it’s the first time in twenty-some years that I will have time to focus on me.

“Still, it would be a really great opportunity to be president of this organization. It would be prestigious, good for my future job options and I really like the people I would be working with. I like bringing people together and being a team leader. I know I would be able to help this organization expand and I’m very flattered that several people have asked me to run for this position.”

I inquired, “So today you would like to decide about running for the presidency. What do you want to accomplish in the next few years?”

Define your priorities

“Well, I can envision a year of staying home and not traveling at all. My ideal year would be focusing on my health by losing some weight and getting back in shape. I would like to take time to get my finances in order and manage that in a better way. Continuing to de-clutter my house would be wonderful!

“I already have a significant position in another non-profit that I really enjoy and I travel multiple times a year for them. And work is busy enough with a giant new project, an unfilled position at the office and me essentially doing two jobs with no end in sight. And I would like to focus on my own research project. Having a normal life where I’m not working 16 hours a day and weekends would be amazing. And not getting behind on life stuff would be awesome.” she said wistfully.

“Still, I feel somewhat obligated to help this organization. About 7% of me would feel regretful about not taking this on.” (Kate has moved from 90% sure about saying “no” to the presidency to 93% sure.)

“You have a lot on your plate.” I observed. “Tell me more about that 7% that would be regretful.”

Is “No” an Option?

“Am I in a place career-wise, where I can say “no” to something that would be good for my career? I really like the people I would work with. Still, this position would require more travel in addition to what I do for the other organization. This fall I’m already going to California for a conference, Mexico where I will present the paper, Paris for a board meeting with the other non-profit and New York for work. And I have an invitation to go to Denmark to give a workshop, as well as a wedding in Florida.”

“So you are traveling five times in the next few months and an invitation to go to Denmark.” I reflected back. “In what way does all of this help you to accomplish your goals?” I asked with curiosity.


“Hmmm? Is the travel worth it? What’s the point of it? Well, I like it when I can add on a day to my trip for touristy things, but often I find myself writing my paper in the hotel room instead of site seeing. I’m so busy at work that I don’t always have time to prepare for the meetings. At that point I could just be in a hotel anywhere, it doesn’t matter if I’m in Rome, because I don’t have time to get out and see the city. And I’ve realized I don’t enjoy teaching at these workshops. It’s just not the part I enjoy. I love doing my research and I haven’t been able to focus on that the way I would like to in many years. I would like to take time to do research, write a paper and then turn that into a book. That would be equally helpful to my career as being president of the organization. And I’m more excited about doing that.”

I recapped. “You are more excited about doing research and writing a book than the presidency. What percentage would you say you’re at now for saying “no” to this organization?”

"I would say that I’m 96% sure that I don’t want to do it.”

“What would get you to 100% sure?” I asked.

Why would I give that away?

“Well, today was such a great day. I have the weekend to myself, as my kids are gone. I went to bed early last night and slept 12 hours. Today I woke up rested and met a friend for yoga, which was really hard because I’m out of shape, but it felt so good. And I bought healthy food last night, I’m using this food app to track what I eat. I lost 4 pounds last week, so I’m on track to feeling better. I think I am realizing that I want to say no to anymore workshop teaching because I don’t enjoy it. I traveled to Asia this spring and didn’t see a thing. Two seventeen-hour flights to teach a workshop and I didn’t get to see anything! I’m finally seeing what it would be like to gain control of my house, life and health. Why the freakin’ hell would I give that away?

(A minute of silence as she thought about her reply.)

 “Ok, I have no doubts that saying no is the right thing to do. I finally have this time to myself to focus on me. If I say yes to the presidency, then I say “no” to all that time for me.”

I reflected back to her, “I hear you saying that you have clarity that saying “no” is the best way to support what you want to accomplish?”


“And you are clear that you won’t travel without having time for site seeing?”


“And you will no longer teach any workshops, because you don’t enjoy it?”

“Yes. In fact, I don’t know if I should go to Denmark because that’s adding another trip this fall and it’s teaching a workshop. But this really nice colleague invited me and it’s a paid trip to Denmark!”

“What part of the travel makes it worth it for you?”

“Seeing a new place and having a professional impact on a global level. The projects can be professionally worth it. I will have to think about it. My job, which is really two jobs, is so stressful that getting away can be a needed break from that.”

At this point our session ended with Kate declaring she would write to the non-profit that afternoon declining the presidency.

She wrote to me the next day to say that she said “no” to the workshop in Denmark and was feeling very happy about not taking on another commitment.

For years, Kate has been used to reacting to her life on the fly because she didn’t have time to slow down and think about what she wanted for herself. The pressure of promotion made “yes” her default answer to anything work-related, whatever that happened to be. Any remaining time would be used to care for her children and to keep her household functioning.

Priorities are Key!

Through our coaching session, Kate was able to slow down and declare what she really wants for herself: self-care and getting her non-work life in order.

Knowing what we really want for our lives is key. Armed with this knowledge, Kate was more easily able to say “no” a request that didn’t align with her vision for her next year.

Shifting our priorities is never a straight line forward, We may fall back into our old habit of saying “yes”, but we become better at more quickly recognizing that feeling in the pit in our stomach that says, “Why did you agree to do this?!?” Saying “no” is like exercising a new muscle. The more we use it, the stronger it gets.