Welcome to Part 2 of Greg’s — one of my best friends and also one of my best coaches — story.

If you missed Part 1, you can catch up here.

— David

Not being able to say no has been a problem for me most of my life. In fact, it was my constant feeling of trying to please people and be accepted that kept me on the path of others rather than on my own personal path of growth and fulfillment. If I had said no early and stuck to my own gut feelings early on, I am positive that I would have been more successful, had a much more fulfilling life and been financially secure.

I also would have had a lot more meaningful relationships with my friends, family and others. I would have evolved more spiritually and maybe travelled the world. Who knows what I could have achieved? Who knows who I would have met? Being along for the ride with others cost me a lot more than money. Rather than discovering what really made me feel fulfilled, I had a life of very few friends, an empty relationship and financial stress.

Just once I wish someone had really cared enough to square up with my and say “enough of your bullshit”. Stop taking so long to pay me. Stop bouncing checks. Stop lying to me. Be an honest ethical man and earn my trust. But it never came. I went on this path doing whatever I needed to do for myself and to please the ones I loved.

Finding the power to now say “NO” is one of the many gifts that being incarcerated has given me, but it is a lifetime struggle. Once I hit bottom and was away from everything — especially the ones I loved — I began to see things more clearly and understand how important it was to have your own voice and be strong. Saying NO became easy, especially when I was talking to other inmates that annoyed me. It became even easier when I left prison and transitioned to a halfway house where other inmates were constantly trying to borrow things or ask for money. I had no desire to help anyone that was trying to take advantage of me. I knew that the only way to succeed and get my life back was to be strong and say no. Then finally I was out of the halfway house and on my own. Then guess what began to happen after I just barely started making a living again and had my own place?

My ex-wife tried coming back into my life with the same old story of no money and how hard it had been raising three children on her own. It was a lot easier to say no now that I had lost everything. The heart strings were still pulled upon because of the three children we had together but ultimately I had learned that I needed to take care of myself first.

I had to say no to any situation that would cause me to be put in a situation that could cost me my freedom. When you are under the supervision of the state, no one cares about your story. They do not want to here that others caused stress and chaos in your life and that is why you committed your crimes. The rule was always being accountable for your actions and make sure if you think you are putting yourself in a compromising position to always say no. You do what you are told. My offer of any financial help beyond what the court ordered in our separation agreement could put my freedom in jeopardy so it was easy to think about it and say no. I was asked by many people to do some of the simplest things, such as stay late or have a drink, both of which would have lead me back to prison. So I always had no issue saying no. This new supervision in my life also made it easy for me because the consequences were to great to risk my loss of freedom. It was my safety check but not really because by then I was trained.

While it made my life simple and somewhat boring, it did slow everything down so that now I take the time to think before I act. What lead to a lot of my mistakes was being impatient. I rarely took the time to survey each situation and see what would be the best choice for me. I ran ahead at full speed, plowing through getting it done like I had been taught most of my life. This served me well when it was just me and I was making minor decisions, but when I brought others into my mix I put their interests at risk and caused them to be stuck in my world. It was not fair at all and not a good thing to expose others to a lot of potential problems.

If you are going to make any type of a major decision, sit on it for at least a few days. Maybe a week or a month. Most importantly, seek the opinion of others for any major decision.

Find a mentor. I do this with every major decision in my life. If feel I need guidance I do not go to family for advice unless it is related in some way to them. I chose not to mix these two worlds. Sometimes there are personal conflicts you do not know about that can muddle the conversation and you will not get solid advice. A lot of times people are holding onto personal grudges or have been hurt by you and you are completely unaware. Such as the previous story with my brother or business partners. Other people love you and want to see you succeed and they ignore the signs of distress. They do not want to have the confrontation with you because they care about you. This is why stopping to think about how your decision could affect others is so important. This is why saying no first is the best path to give yourself time to evaluate and choosing who to want to ask for advice is imperative.

Saying no everyday to certain instances in your life can bring you clarity. It can make you strong in ways you never knew how. It puts you in control. Even something as simple as not agreeing to go to a restaurant you think is poor or over priced can be powerful. Telling a friend or relative that you need some time alone and do not feel like hanging out can also bring some inner peace that you are in control.

Most of my life, when I was in a relationship, I always had this fear of saying no so as to please the other person. I wanted little to no conflict in my life and wanted everyone to be happy. This would translate even in to friendships and business relationships. I would agree to the smallest things such as running to Home Depot with the family on my day off to buy plants or running to Costco which I cannot stand. Then eventually afterwards I would get resentful and become angry and bitter for the rest of the day. I would agree to take someone’s shift when I was bartending or run something across town for my boss during rush hour. I was a constant pleaser and it made me feel great. I felt needed. I was constantly looking for approval in the smallest things and sacrificing my time to achieve acceptance.

Boulder, Colorado, where I lived for twenty years, was a place that only fed my desire to please others and keep myself in a positive light with my peers. I found Boulder to be overwhelming and pretentious at times, but regardless I wanted to be part of the scene. Who had the new house, the new car, sent their kids to private school. This was the crowd I ran with and the neighborhood we had placed our family. It was a perfect storm waiting to happen for a giver and pleaser like me. I eventually became blinded by my warped reality and could not see how far my actions had taken me off the path of being an honest and ethical person. I had to keep pleasing and if that meant hurting and taking advantage of others then I accepted it as my reality. This is what led to my eventual downfall and prison term.

Now the words “No thank you,” with a polite reason behind it, come out of my mouth so fast now it is almost automatic because I know who I am and want to live a life that I enjoy. I am strong in my “NO” stance. I always say no before I say yes. I make controlled decisions

When I began dating after my divorce, I found great pleasure in saying “NO” with kindness. I enjoyed being politely direct with woman that I was not “feeling it” with on our first date. Telling her directly that she was amazing but I was not feeling any connection on that level was empowering. I was in control. Most of the time the feeling was mutual and we went our separate ways. Sometimes it was even initiated by the woman and I was refreshed that someone could be as honest and direct with me. Because if it is not working for either party it is ok.

Ok yes a few times the other person would get upset and send me a nasty text message or tell me off. Sometimes even insult me as it was their defense mechanism. But I did not care because it was my life that I was in control of and I had to stay on my path.

Say “NO” to things that do not suit you. Take time with your decisions. Always take care of yourself first. Making sure you are doing what you want to do and being okay with others getting upset with you and not agreeing is your best medicine. It is a true path.

People many think you are selfish, but it is your life. If you do not think of yourself first everyday and say no before you say yes, then you will eventually compromise your true self. You will get off your path whatever that may be. You may end up in divorce, have very few friends or even in prison like myself. If I had been able to say no then my life would have been a lot different. Slow it down. Don’t do to much and put your self interest first.