Just say no … thank you

We can’t be in multiple places at once. We can’t be present at an event by dropping in and quickly leaving for the next engagement. This applies to pre-COVID-19 days with in-person meetings and engagements, and our current environment with video calls for business and pleasure.

Online or in person, if you try to do it all and overbook your business and social life, you’ll struggle to find fulfillment from activities that should bring you joy. I have found myself in this position countless times. When you are blessed to have many relationships, you receive many invitations — to charitable events, dinner engagements, weddings, celebrations and other functions. If I say yes to everyone — and that is my natural inclination — I’ll disappoint everyone.

There have been many evenings when I have attended five charity events, and there were probably five more I didn’t make. I couldn’t stay long at those I did attend, which disappointed the organizers. You can’t win.

My wife and I went to two weddings in one evening, one in New York and one in Ohio. We left the first early, right as they were serving dinner. The parents of the bride and groom were visibly disappointed that we excused ourselves before the meal. I felt bad.
At the second reception, the hosts asked, “Where have you been?” Afterward, driving home, my wife said, “One family is upset you left early, and the others are upset you were late. I’m upset because we haven’t eaten and it’s almost midnight, and no one is happy.”

Getting married is a special day for the bride and groom. “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.

When my children were growing up, we visited my mother and father every Sunday for dinner. We joined other family. We shared a meal and stories with laughter. After visiting, we’d drive up the street to see my grandparents and there was 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 grandparents, great-grandparents and other family members. You don’t get that time back. Nothing replaces being there. Spending time with loved ones is the best gift that can be given.

But there is always that balance to strike with business, community and family commitments. There’s no way to make more time, so 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 so you can say yes to everyone? If you do say yes, do so with heart because you’ll make a contribution. If you say yes just because you don’t want to say no, who benefits?

Go out of your way to make people feel important. Be there when friends, family, clients, neighbors and others need you most. Be the one people can depend on to help, to listen. Focus on giving deeply where you can make a difference. I am grateful for the many people in my life who want to include me. I am humbled that I can be part of their efforts, their success. 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. It’s OK to say no.

Umberto P. Fedeli is CEO of The Fedeli Group