I learned to say “No!” when I took a 6 week self-defense class for ten women called “model mugging.” As we shared our stories, we all had our own experiences of violence and we were tired of being afraid. In my case, I’d been at the receiving end of domestic violence during my first marriage and I got mugged by two men on a lit up street corner.

Some highly trained men wore padded armor all over their bodies so we could practice fighting without pulling our punches. It took courage to show up and keep placing ourselves in simulated situations with would-be predators. Each week when the class started, we stood in a huddle, arms around each other, we stomped one foot hard against the floor three times and shouted, “No! No! No!” at the top of our lungs. We were taught to run if we could or de-escalate a situation, but if need be, we were ready to fight as hard and effectively as we could. I came away with a heightened sense of my own strength and courage. It was so important to know when to say “no” and follow it up with action.

I learned to say “Yes” when I got a call from an agent who needed a ghostwriter for Diana Ross. I was terrified. I had ghostwritten only once before and she was a legend. How could I face her without being intimidated? What if I couldn’t do it? I didn’t even know how to begin. My conversation with the agent went like this:

“Did you say ‘Diana Ross?’”


“Did you say the deadline was three months to write a memoir about someone who’s had a massively large life?”


“No one could meet that deadline, could they?” I said.

“No. But you’re a quick study. If anyone could, it would be you. They’ll give or take a week or so.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll do it.”

It seemed like those words had come out of someone else and when I hung up the phone, I went straight to bed and pulled the covers over my head. What had I done? What had I said “yes” to? This woman had a reputation of being extremely difficult and it was too late to back down. I calmed my breathing. I wanted to try. I decided that if my writing didn’t please her, she could fire me. If it did, I was in for a great ride.

When I tackled the first chapter about her concert that was rained out in Central Park, I wondered how on earth I could assume to write in this woman’s voice. It was Diana Ross. How presumptuous of me. Then I started writing. I imagined being on that stage, facing the audience and ushering them out safely in the pouring rain in the middle of the concert. When I submitted the chapter, she said very little but she asked me to keep going. Compliments are rare when you ghostwrite for a huge celebrity so I didn’t expect any. I just took the ride, I learned as I went along, I met the harrowing deadline, and I was grateful that I had said “Yes.” My subsequent projects had their twists and challenges but nothing was as daunting as writing for that celebrated diva with a tough reputation who turned out to be kind and willing to collaborate.

I met a woman once who told me she had made a promise to herself to say “Yes” to everything for two weeks and she got herself in a bad situation with a bad person. I met another woman who said “No” to an offer that could have made her career but she was too frightened to try. We have to learn when to say “No” and when to say “Yes” and to back it up with determination and belief in ourselves. When we do, we keep ourselves safe, physically and emotionally, and our lives and self-confidence expand and take us to places we could never have imagined.

Do you know when to say “yes” and when to say “no?”

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