April 28, 2009

The Power of No

I first came up with the idea of "avoiding regret" in the office, when I was surrounded by marketers and music industry executives who made decisions about spending money because they were afraid of what would happen if they didn't. Marketers are do-ers. They have to at least try. The hardest thing for a marketer to do, I think especially in the music industry, is say no to something.

Which explains why I found my professional path in marketing.

But I do have the rare skill of saying no. I've turned down many dates. Given out many fake numbers. Even turned down job offers (sorry Tommy Boy). And in the most ballsy move ever, I quit my job in the worst economic recession most of us have seen in our adult lives.

Some things are easy to say no to, like a job that makes you so depressed that you gain 15 pounds and cry every day at work. Some things you really want to say no to, but you just have to buck up and do anyway.

So big deal, my gum receded from one of my teeth. You could actually see the root of the tooth, one of those parts of your body you hope to never see. But it had been like that for over a year before my dentist said anything, so I figured it could wait another year or two or three. However, when I finally visited the periodontist, she advised that she would not wait six months to get it fixed. Great timing, me with no dental insurance.

To complicate matters, in September I applied for Peace Corps and actually received a nomination for volunteer service. Peace Corps has been criticized for their arduous application process with their nearly-impossible-to-pass medical evaluations that include statements from every doctor you visit, and true to form, when they saw that I needed a gum graft, they sent my dental records back and threatened to not send me my assignment until I got the surgery completed.

So do I give up on the idea of Peace Corps just because I don't want gum surgery? If so, I should have never applied in the first place. But do I get gum surgery now just for Peace Corps when I'm not even sure that I'll accept their assignment when it finally comes?

These are the questions I've been facing for the last month. When faced with a difficult decision like this as a child, often I would choose not to decide at all. But in this case, not deciding was equivalent to not getting the surgery and not doing Peace Corps. I just wasn't ready to say no to that many things just yet. In the end, I reminded myself that I haven't had dental insurance for the last few years despite having a job, and that I was unlikely to acquire dental insurance within six months even if I didn't go volunteer abroad, so I might as well fix the damn gum now and not risk losing a tooth. The potential regret of a lost tooth outweighed the regret associated with anything else in this very complicated situation.

Now a week after the gum graft surgery, my jaw still aches and I'm still not sleeping through the night. I still haven't received my assignment from Peace Corps and am not sure when it will come. I have never been so unsure of my future as I am at this very moment.

But I've done all I can to be open to signs from the universe and to give myself as many options as I can when the time comes to make the big decision. True freedom is having the choice to say no to something (or some things) and not just take whatever comes your way.

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