Essentialism: Dismantling The Yes Bomb


I’m doing a five-part series for nonprofit/social good leaders (but the principles apply to anyone), based on the book Essentialism. Catch up with Part 1 here.

Are you tired of being tired? In last week’s newsletter, I shared a story about burnout, about how I almost went over the edge and crashed. A trip to the beach saved my soul.

As I look back to that moment, I realize why my life almost exploded. All the ingredients were in place and the timer was ticking. I had said “Yes” to too many things, saying “No” to healthy rhythms, pace, and outcomes in the process. I had yet to learn how to dismantle the yes bomb.

We are finite humans, and we have certain realities to live by. Eating well, sleeping well, exercising, playing and resting are essential to seeing our visions become real. Because of my lack of wisdom, my life had almost collapsed; the impact would have been a disaster. I allowed my passion to empower our leaders, care for our kids, and see our communities transformed to outrun all of my realities.

How To Change

I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture of starting an organization; that is not fair. When I launched Help One Now, I knew I had to fight to survive; I had to hustle to create momentum and sustain the organization. My normal rhythm of work was to usually start around 6 or 7AM and go until 5:30pm. If I did not have an event or meeting, I would be present with my family until the kids went to bed, and then I would work a few more hours.

As Help One Now grew, we were able to hire more staff and do more good for the world. But guess what? Even though we were succeeding, we could not slow down. Instead, trying to keep up with the progress — we sped up! It was awesome, exhausting, and confusing.

I began to break. I could not sleep; I was on a treadmill and I could not get off. My body was telling me I needed to slow down, but that’s hard to do once you finally have momentum. Looking back, I realized that I said yes to too many average opportunities. They kept me busy, but they did not create the necessary impact to build an organization with a healthy culture. If I was going to get off the treadmill, I had to create a disciplined strategy; otherwise, I could destroy everything I was trying to build.

Guess what? You may also need to dismantle the yes bomb. If you don’t, you could pay a hefty price; there is a good chance that your dream will head to the graveyard.

So, how do we do this?

Healthy Souls

Great leaders understand that great organizations must have a foundation to survive the ups and downs of the market. Often, we think the foundation is cash-flow, or adding more team members, or creating better systems. These things are very, very good. But, they are not the foundation. Your soul–and the souls of your team members–are the foundation for success. (Tweet that) Human capital is our number one asset. When we destroy our souls, we erode the culture of the organization and begin a downward spiral.

I knew I had to focus on making sure my soul was healthy. That meant I had to take more time to:
• Connect with God.
• Sleep. I went from 4-6 hours to 7 hours a night.
• Rest and allow my mind and body to recover from the intensity of starting an organization.
• Spend time with family and friends.
• Play and enjoy all the little moments of life.

If my soul was not healthy, the organization that I was leading would not be healthy. If you want to dig deeper into this subject, I would recommend John Ortberb’s excellent book Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You.


I’m writing this post from my favorite coffee shop in Raleigh. It’s 7:30am. I’ve been here for roughly 15 minutes and I’ve heard the phrase “I’m crazy busy” at least 3 or 4 times. The rush is on; the treadmill is moving forward. We are a people who are always reaching into the future, trying to process what is NEXT on the calendar. If the calendar is empty, we feel less valuable.

Something is broken. Our identity is tied to success or failure. Why are we so scared to slow down? Have we forgotten that greatness is forged in decades of hard work? According to Jim Collins, Level 5 leaders build companies that are have “enduring greatness.” It’s okay to slow down and find a pace that will help you accomplish your longtime goals. (Tweet that) Great leaders who don’t want their organization to go to the graveyard learn how to dismantle the yes bomb, because if they don’t, they know that their pace will suffer–meaning they will be less effective in the long-run.

I no longer take pride in how busy I am; I now take pride in how effective I am. (Tweet that) No doubt, I have seasons of life that are really busy. But those seasons must have gaps where I can slow down, re-center my life, and make sure I’m focused on doing the most important work, doing that work well, and making sure my soul is healthy.

An Extremely Clear Vision

Leaders who lack a clear vision will be the most susceptible to the chronic yes bomb, because they haven’t established boundaries to guide them away from things that they should say “No” to.

For years, I did anything possible to create momentum. I wish I would have been more focused, believed in the concept that less is more, less is better. Even in the beginning days, I could have created a much greater impact if I had learned how to dismantle the yes bomb.  But, as your organization grows, you must constantly, radically prioritize what you say yes to and how you spend your time. You have to master the art of saying yes and deal with people who are upset when you say no (more on this in a future post). No bones about it–this is how you steward the call on your life well. This is what separates bad, good, and great leaders. Time can be your ally or your enemy. The good news? You get to choose.

What is your vision? What are the top three things you need to do in order to take the next big step to see your vision become real?  Spend 80% of your time on those three key activities and you will see amazing results. This is the heart of an essentialist. Learn to despise busy work, meetings that don’t matter, emails that never end, and distractions that cause us to create work that is less than the best.

Go Backwards To Go Forward

Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forward. You must stop and consider how you can become a better leader by demanding from yourself something far more than you would have ever imagined. When you dismantle the yes bomb, you take the next step to becoming an effective leader. It’s hard; it takes discipline. People might be angry with you for turning down their requests, but what they don’t realize is that you’re focusing on doing work that matters in order to the impact that you desire.

Say “Yes” to the best and “No” to all distractions.

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About The Author

I’m the Founder/CEO of Help One Now. I live in downtown Raleigh with my family. I’m a justice advocate, who loves empowering leaders (and tribes) to launch movements for doing good.

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