It has been called the most dangerous word in the world and research has shown that just seeing or hearing the word “no” can cause significant changes in the brain.
Without even realizing it, I had given that word way too much power in my own life. Being a super “people pleaser,” I rarely ever said “no” to any adult and often became resentful at being taken advantage of all the time. The only time I felt safe saying “no” was with my children — and as most parents, I used it often with them without even thinking. It was habit.
It took an experience with my son Joseph to teach me what the word really means. He started his professional ballet career just before he turned 17, and the following summer he received a scholarship to a special two-week workshop in New York City with Dame Margot Fonteyn. He planned to stay an extra week after the workshop and take more classes from the great teachers in the city. He especially wanted to take a class at American Ballet Theatre (ABT) with Mikhail Baryshnikov , the current director of the company. He said he wanted to get an honest opinion from the great dancer as to his own potential as a professional ballet dancer. When he told me his plan, I thought, “Yeah right, this little kid from Texas is never going to get anywhere near a class at ABT with one of the greatest dancers in the world.”
He proved me wrong. He got in the class, Baryshnikov spent time with him afterward to give him pointers, invited him to take class again the following day, and even suggested he audition for the company after a few years of experience.
When he came home we went to tell his directors at Ballet Austin about his experience. I noticed Mrs. Slavin , who had once danced with American Ballet Theatre herself, seemed confused and deep in thought. Finally she said “Joseph, people would do anything to get into a class with that company. How did you manage to get in? Did you know someone?” His reply: “I just asked.”
As we were driving home, I was curious too. “Joseph, I would have never had the courage to even call them up and ask. How did you do it?” He looked at me oddly and replied, “Well, Mom, what’s the worst thing they could do?” I said, “I don’t know!!!” Then, with a hint of amusement in his voice, he said “Mom, the worst thing they could do is say ‘no’!” It was then that I realized that to me it had never been that simple. To me, “no” meant all kinds of horrible things about me as a person: I was bad, stupid, foolish and how dare I even ask! I had been taught to never ask for what I wanted — that if I deserved it those with the power would know and give it to me. I had believed that asking was a sure way to never get anything I wanted. To my son, professionally known as Joseph Nygren Cox, “no” just meant “no” and his courage to always ask for what he wanted has served him well. I have been trying hard to change my own paradigm about that little word since that day!