If you say yes to everyone, you’ll disappoint everyone

You can’t be in nine places at once. You can’t be present at an event if you drop in and quickly leave to get to the next engagement. If you overbook your business and social life, you’ll struggle to find fulfillment from those activities that should bring you great joy.

I have found myself in this position countless times in my career. When you have a broad network, you receive many invitations — to charitable events, business luncheons, weddings, celebrations and functions of all kinds. If you say yes to everyone — and that is my natural inclination, as I struggle with balance — then you’ll end up disappointing everyone.

There have been many evenings where I have walked into my home at 10:30 p.m. after attending five charity events. For those five events I went to, there were probably five more I didn’t make. I couldn’t stay long at the events I did attend, which disappointed those organizing the functions. You can’t win.

I remember when my wife and I went to two weddings in one evening. This has happened on more than one occasion. We had to leave the first celebration early, as they were about to serve dinner. We were seated next to the parents of the bride and groom.

They were visibly disappointed we had to excuse ourselves before the meal was served. I felt bad. We traveled to the next reception — and the hosts ask us, “Where have you been?” After it’s all over, we’re driving home and my wife says, “One family is upset because you left early and the others are upset because you are late. I’m upset because we haven’t eaten and it’s almost midnight, and no one is happy.”

Getting married is a wonderful gift. I told my wife, “It’s their special day. This is not about me.” But my desire to be in all places put a stress on the evening, and did we “add value” at either wedding? I’m not sure. But I believe that physically showing up — even if the travel is exhausting and the schedule is overwhelming —is more valuable than sending a card stuffed with money or an extravagant gift.

You receive the invitation because your presence is desired. I try to fulfill that wish when I can. But I know I must be careful to only say yes when I know I can truly give the time, energy, resources, knowledge and presence they deserve. If you do say yes, do so with heart because you’ll make a contribution.

Otherwise, learn how to say no, and do it with compassion, kindness and sensitivity. You’ll find that when you start saying no, yes becomes even more meaningful. The reality is, we can’t do it all. We can’t be all things to all people, or be in every place at every time. If we spread ourselves too thin, we’ll end up disappointing others rather than making a positive impact.

When my children were growing up, we visited my mother and father every Sunday for dinner. We joined other family—cousins, uncles and aunts. We shared a meal, stories and laughter. After visiting there, we’d drive a half-mile up the street to see my grandparents. We’d sit at the kitchen table, and of course there would be more food, more stories and more laughter. My children might have wanted to leave sooner, but now they appreciate the valuable time they spent with their great-grandparents and other family members.

You don’t get that time back. Nothing replaces a visit or just being there. Spending time with your loved ones is the best gift that can be given.

There is always that balance to strike with business, community and family commitments. Family comes first. Presence with family is of utmost importance. It’s the most precious time you have and, unfortunately, some people do not realize this until it’s too late. Then you need to consider where you can really make an impact.

How important is it to show up at that charity event — or to pack several functions into one evening just so you can say yes to all the hosts? If you say yes just because you don’t want to say no, then who benefits? Go out of your way to make people feel important.

Be there when friends, family, clients, neighbors and others you care about need you the most. Be the one people can depend on to help and listen. Focus on giving deeply where you can make a difference. It goes back to the Pareto Principle and playing to your strengths. I am grateful for the many people in my life who want to include me in their charity events, campaigns, luncheons, forums, meetings, networking affairs, weddings, birthdays and other social occasions. I am humbled I can be part of their efforts and success.

Umberto P. Fedeli is president and CEO at The Fedeli Group