My current time-waster/stress-reliever is a game called Mahjong, where tiles are stacked in various formations and the goal is to remove all of the tiles by finding matching pairs.

I’ve gotten to the point where I can win about half the games I play, but that meant a fair bit of trial and error had to take place before I could begin to understand the strategy.  At first, I’d simply remove any matching pairs that appeared, hoping to get to the bottom. With that approach though, I never succeeded.

One day I had an a-ha moment while playing Mahjong.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

In other words, by removing the easy tiles at the beginning instead of saving them for later when one of them might match another tile that’s more important to remove, I ruin my chances of success in the long run.

The most valuable thing to do is to remove those tiles that reveal something deeper underneath.

The more I play Mahjong, the more I realize those lessons go much beyond a simple game.

Since I started my business last year, I have been doing a lot of things. Too many things. There are lots of things I CAN do, and I’m good at many of them, so when people ask me to do them, I think “I need to make money and I need to get my name out there, so I’d better do this thing.”

I have been writing a book, editing other people’s books, tutoring people, coaching people, mentoring leaders, serving on the board of a women’s empowerment organization, teaching effective written communication, teaching writing for public relations, teaching effective facilitation, teaching emotional intelligence, facilitating community-building workshops, facilitating leadership workshops, teaching creative writing, teaching creative discovery, teaching social media skills, writing and selling ebooks on writing, wandering, leadership, and social media, serving on the organizing committee for an international women’s gathering, building a couple of websites for clients, doing mandala sessions and creating a mandala discovery course, doing a Skype interview series for a leadership gathering, hosting retreats… and… there’s more.

Some days, at the end of the week, I feel like my brain has been riding a merry-go-round for days on end. These past weeks have been especially challenging, since I’m currently teaching courses in three very different subject areas (writing for PR, effective facilitation, and creative discovery), and building a website for the event I’m helping to host this summer, and planning 2 upcoming retreats, and doing some mandala sessions. TOO MUCH!

I need to make money, I need to build my platform, and I enjoy variety, so I have a hard time saying no to the work that shows up.

Just like in the early days of playing Mahjong, I’m removing all of the tiles that appear, without consideration for whether or not they’re helping get to the deeper purpose.

Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.

It’s time to apply that mantra to my life as well as my Mahjong board. I need more strategy. I need to trust that hanging onto some of the easy tiles will mean I’ll have them in reserve for when they help me get to the deeper stuff.

Yesterday, I took a baby step. Because of my skill-set and experience, I’d been asked to sit on the board of a really interesting organization doing international development work, mostly in Africa. It was SO tempting to say yes, since it so closely matches my values and interests and I knew I would be an asset to them and and it would give me a new circle of interesting connections. BUT I knew it would take time away from some of the other valuable work I’m committed to that’s even more closely aligned with my values and interests and long term business goal. So I made the difficult decision to say no. OOoooo… that was tough.

And I’m going to start saying no to more things, like some of the teaching that requires too much of my time and energy in areas I’m neither effective nor interested (grading papers, for example).

None of it has been a waste of time though. Just like all those practice rounds of Mahjong, before I started winning games, this past year has been incredibly valuable for me. I’ve learned so much more about what I’m good at, what I want to spend my time and energy on, and what offerings of mine people benefit the most from.

I couldn’t get here without the practice.

I couldn’t start saying no until I’d said yes a lot of times. I couldn’t find the work that was most meant for me, without a little trial and error that helped me eliminate the work that wasn’t meant for me.

Here’s what I’ve learned about myself this past year:

I love public speaking. I am often in my most happy place when I am speaking, leading, facilitating, or teaching. But I don’t really enjoy speaking on topics that don’t energize me.

I love engaging people in meaningful conversation, and I love helping them get to deeper levels of meaning. I even get energy from facilitating challenging dialogues.

I love encouraging people, but I don’t really enjoy being in a position where I have to judge their work. I’d much rather offer words of encouragement to my students and help them find their unique gifts than correct their papers and give them grades.

I love creative writing, and I enjoy teaching other people to write more creatively, but I don’t really enjoy teaching business writing.

I am a meaning-finder, a metaphor-maker, a big picture thinker and a non-dualistic processor. I thrive on creativity. I am much more comfortable outside the box than inside. I feel easily trapped when I have to teach or work in environments that feel too restrictive or systems-driven.

I can’t think of anything I love more than doing creative work (like mandalas) and encouraging others to grow in their creativity and self-discovery.

I keep going back to the personal mission statement I wrote about 10 years ago when I first started imagining this work.

“It is my mission to inspire excellence in people, to facilitate personal growth and the discovery of gifts, and to serve as a catalyst for positive change.”

It’s time to start saying no to more things so that I can say a bigger YES to my mission.

This week I woke with a new abbreviated version of my mission statement on my mind.

I am a catalyst for creativity, community, and change.

And I say a bit YES to that.

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