On Being One … And The Power Of The Word “No”

Everyone has experienced being told “no”.

A lot of times, someone saying “no” can be a good thing. Especially if we just proposed a dangerous or foolhardy idea (like jumping off the roof of our house with a towel cape tied onto our back).

These “no”s are well-intentioned and come from the other person wanting to look out for us.

But other times, a “no” can feel insulting, limiting, and negative:

  • “There’s no way you’ll ever be able to succeed at…”
  • You can’t do ____. Only <insert the blank here> can do that…”
  • You aren’t good enough to…”

These type of “no”s are limiting, self-defeating, and try to make your world a smaller place.

They can shape our minds and our beliefs about our capability (or lack thereof).

But instead of letting these statements define us (negatively), what if we could use them to our advantage and even change the system? We want to show you how to do that.

In this week’s blog post, David Ngo, a Stanford University graduate ’12 who has been admitted to both the Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business, shares his experience overcoming the negativity that has always lurked around the edge of his success.

David. No.

I’ve heard the word “No” said after my first name so many times. “David, no you can’t do this” — or “‘David, no’ people just don’t do that.”

Or just — “David. No.”

I’ve heard the word “No” after my name so many times in part because I push the boundaries of what’s conventional, and in part because that’s how you pronounce my last name (Ngo) — “No.”

***Flashback to 2008***

My mom picked up the phone and started talking to a distant relative; we weren’t very close. And it was clear that they was not calling to see how we were doing, but to compare their son with me during high school graduation season.

“So, where’s David applying to college?” this relative innocuously asked.

“Oh, UVA (University of Virginia), William & Mary, and also trying for Stanford. But we’ll see. Who knows what will happen?” my mom replied.

“STANFORD? You need a 2400 to get into Stanford. David, no he can’t do it. That’s impossible.”

My mom relayed that statement to me after the phone conversation; she wasn’t upset — she was even calm when she told me.

But, hearing what my relative had said made me livid. I was pissed.

This is a recap of what went on in my mind for a couple of minutes:

“Who is this distant relative to say that I CAN’T DO IT?

Distant relative don’t know me. Relative called just to *compare*.

Ugh, I hate when that’s their intention of asking.

Wait a minute… If this is their mindset — this limited negative mindset — isn’t that contagious?  Isn’t that the limited lens that their spreading in their family? Their community?  Hm…”

***End flashback***

During college application season, I had procrastinated on writing my Stanford essays.  During that procrastination period, the events above unfolded.  And I realized that it was meant to be shared in my Stanford essays.  Here it is copied below (edited to provide anonymity to my relative’s gender):

Question: Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. What would you want your freshman year roommate to know about you? Tell us something about you that will help your roommate — and us — know you better.

“STANFORD!? It’s REALLY hard to get in. You need a 2400. It’s impossible. David can’t do it.” When Mom told me a relative said this to her, I was furious. Adding oil to the fire, Relative called not to genuinely ask how we were doing. Instead, Relative only called to know about my academics, such as my grades and SAT score, prospective universities, and bragging about Relative’s own child. Then, Relative blatantly told my mom that I could not achieve something!? How negative, pessimistic, and selfish can a person be!?

I have been raised to believe smart-hard work will bring success, and limitations are temporary. This was the first time I have been doubted. Immediately, my anger shadowed my positive reasons of applying to Stanford: I wanted to prove this relative wrong! When my anger disappeared, I started thinking normally–positively.

If Relative is so close-minded, will Relative’s children be strongly influenced as well? Will said children limit their possibilities of colleges and begin a cycle of limited thinking and shrunken dreams? Attending Stanford will feel great to prove this relative wrong, but it will feel even greater to know that I have cracked open a slight hole in this large sphere of limited thinking.

Gratitude is what I have for that relative now.  Gratitude, punctured with spikes of frustration and anger, is what meets my “No”s.  That “No” happened in 2008.

And it didn’t stop there.

I met it again during my time at Stanford from a handful of staff/professors.  I met it again with my own mother during college.  And I meet “No” within myself, almost every single day.

Optimism and positivity has been integrated throughout my being.  But it hasn’t helped me transcend the “No”s from the world, from loved ones, or from myself.

I love my life, myself, and those around me in the past, present, & future.  But, I have yet to consistently meet a “David, no” with full gratitude and love.

And that’s okay.  Because I’m on my way one moment at a time.


The bigger the no, the bigger the YES!

It can be scary to say no and yet at the same time so worth it in the end.

After you’ve watched this week’s episode, leave a comment on the blog and declare to me, our community and the Universe who or what you are going to say no to and what bigger yes will come because of your new bold and courageous action!

AND – if you’ve set boundaries, said no, and it’s worked out, leave a comment on the blog and share with us your success story. Your story may be the one thing that someone needs to find the courage to do the same.

Together we can grow into who we’re meant to be.

You can do this. You have the power to change.

Claim your power, today!

Big love from London,


P.S. I’m hiring a community manager. If you love social media and Daily Love, click here to apply.

[Begin Transcription]

Hey there, I’m Mastin Kipp, founder of TheDailyLove.com, and author of the book, Daily Love: Growing into Grace. Welcome to this week’s episode of Daily Love TV.

Today, I want to talk to you about one of my favorite words to say, which is the word, “no.” Generally around the age of two or three, we got really good at saying this word, right? Moms and dads out there know what I’m talking about. We got really good at saying the word, “no,” and then somehow, when we got on our spiritual path, we got really bad at saying the word, “no.” Today, I want to talk to you about why it’s important to say “no.” What I’ve noticed is that a lot of people in our community – they’re loving, they’re caring, they’re spiritual, and they equate all of those heart-centered qualities of empathy and compassion and love with being a doormat. It’s like, I just have to say yes. I have no boundaries. It’s not for me.

What we have to realize is that “no” is a complete sentence. “No” can be a very powerful word to say, and the reality is, if there’s an area of your life where you’re stuck, financially, romantically, spiritually, in your business, family, wherever you feel like there’s growth, chances are you’re saying too many “yes’s” and not enough “no’s.”

The thing you got to remember is that, the bigger the no, the bigger the yes. Here’s the thing. There’s a moment when we want to say “no,” right? Can you do this thing this weekend, or will you watch my friend or child, or will you do this for me again? There’s a moment where we don’t want to let someone down. There’s a moment where there’s that awkward moment of setting a boundary that we tend to avoid. What I’d like to encourage you to do is, instead of trying to avoid that awkward moment or worry about letting other people down, listen to your heart, and listen to what’s an authentic “no” for you, and have the courage to say it. The reality is, if you say “no,” and it’s a real, heart-felt “no,” that’s self-care. That’s self-love. What’s interesting is that if you say “yes” to someone else, and you’re scared to let them down, but on the inside you’re feeling a “no,” you’re not letting them down. You’re letting yourself down.

What starts to happen is that over time, if we don’t have that boundary set in place, resentment starts to build up inside of us, and we start to resent and hate people that we love the most. Quite frankly, it’s not their fault. We suck at setting boundaries. If you look at your schedule. If you look at your time that you spend out there serving other people, helping other people, if you want to serve your spiritual mission at the highest level, self-care is necessary. When you take care of yourself, when you set boundaries, when you find time to exercise and eat right, take care of yourself and get sleep, and get water, and meditate, and pray, and do yoga, and work out, whatever it might be for you to take care of yourself, you show up with more passion, more presence, and more energy for life and for those that you need to serve.

The thing is, it can be scary to do that, because we don’t want to let people down, we’re looking for their approval, whatever it might be. The truth is, if you want to learn to live a spiritual life, to live on purpose, when your heart says “no,” that’s the divine, that’s God, that’s the universe saying “no.” Learn to trust it so that you can create that space for what you’re meant to do. It can be scary, because sometimes we fill our calendar and fill our lives up with so much stuff to avoid feeling. We don’t want to feel the feelings of guilt, or shame, or powerlessness, or feel like we’re out of control. We get so busy, but we never do the internal work.

The reality is, life is asking you to slow down. Life is asking you to clear space for the book, for the project, for the launch, for the blog, for the business, for your relationship, for your family, for your kids, whatever it might be, you need to create space for that.

What I do is, I go to my calendar, and I look two, three, four weeks out, and I put in the necessary, mandatory things: exercise, food times, times with my girlfriend, times for my business, times for writing my book. That creates the majority of my schedule, and guess what? It doesn’t leave a heck of a lot of time for anything else, and I’ve gotten really good at saying “no,” to protect my time because I need to stay mission focused on the Daily Love mission, relationship focused on my relationship with my girlfriend, Jenna, and it has to be able to create time.

It’s very easy to have your time and your schedule just wiped away with other people and commitments. This is not about not serving others. This is not about being selfish. It’s about filling yourself up, and having the courage to go by that awkward moment or two where it’s weird to say “no,” and you’ll create more space, and people will respect you. The other thing is, resentment will decrease. You’ll be able to keep your commitments when you really want to do that, and, on top of that, other people are going to respect you more for taking care of yourself.

My question for you is, “Where do you need to say ‘no’ in your life?” As you’ve been watching this video, chances are you’ve already been thinking about the people, the situations that you need to say “no” to. What do you got to say “yes” to? Because “no” is a complete sentence. Remember, I’ve already said this, I’m going to say it again. The bigger the “no,” the bigger the “yes.” When you say “no,” and you set that boundary, you’re saying “yes” to the purpose of your life. You’re saying “yes” to your heart, “yes” to spirituality, “yes” to self-care. Life will respond differently when you do so.


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