In Order To Find Flow, You Have to Say No

It was just before the Fourth of July, 2014, I stood up from a chair while watching my son at swim practice and almost collapsed. Pain was shooting down my back and legs.  That night, I couldn’t change out of my clothes.  This was the beginning of 15 months of battling, what I would eventually learn, was a severely herniated disc.  It would take almost another year for me to find out what was causing the pain thanks to a spine specialist who twice refused me an MRI. Luckily, my General Practitioner eventually prescribed me an MRI that showed a serious herniation, surgery was suggested as the most likely solution. But first I would take the “conservative approach,” months of physical therapy, pain shots in my back, and a chiropractor who ultimately made it worse.  I eventually made the decision to get surgery in October of 2015 and two weeks later, I was virtually pain free. I was off pain medication, and bursting with energy.

The biggest lesson I learned from this experience was not to take my body for granted. I love working, I always have. Being laid up, cranky, and needing pain medication just to barely make it through the day was misery.  The injury also coincided with the year I agreed to be a board President of a non-profit and treasurer for my local PTA all on top of co-directing an independent documentary project and trying to re-vamp my business.  I was also raising my son and helping him navigate what was an extremely stressful fourth grade classroom experience.

I made a decision that coincided with my surgery and transformed my life.  I decided to take a year sabbatical from any and all volunteer work, free-advice giving, and helping on any low-budget or no-budget film project where I was not a central team member.  This at first went against my personality – I am a yes person, someone who loves to help others and derives joy from it.  I also hate turning down any opportunity.  But, what I realized was that I was suffering.  Not only from my back pain, but I wasn’t making the money I needed, in part, because out of the limited hours of available work time I had, much of it was going to volunteer projects and helping others while my own work was taking a back seat.

In the year and a half that followed I started focusing on what I really wanted to achieve. My partners and I launched FLOWSTATE Films, built our brand and website, brought in new and exciting projects and I’m making the most steady income since I began working for myself five years ago.  Saying no to the things I didn’t want to do, allowed for the opportunities I really wanted. Ultimately the concept of a company built around a flow state grew from learning how to cultivate this mental space.

And, just this month, I received the greatest gift of all for taking care of myself – the birth of my baby daughter, Charlotte.  Right now, I couldn’t feel more lucky and more in control of my time.

At first I worried that saying no would offend others, but, what was most surprising was how much people seemed to respect the boundary I had created for myself.  For a lot of us type-A women who enjoy leadership roles it can be hard to say no.  But, too often we are frazzled, running late, and missing the fun of our kids or even the fun of our careers because we have to get in the car and go to the next commitment.  The real sense of getting your life into a flowstate comes from knowing when to say no so that you can say yes when it matters most.