The Blog.

The curse of the capable

29 Jun 2015 | Clarity & Focus

“I wish there weren’t so many things that I can do!”

My husband said this a little while ago. He was at a crossroads at his career, and was trying to decide which direction he wanted to steer in.

His problem was, he was too capable. For most of his career, he had followed his competency – and the money, opportunities and promotion that had come with it – and found himself doing a job he was very good at but didn’t enjoy.

“It would be easier if I was only good at one thing!” because then he wouldn’t have to choose.

It’s easy to say no to things you know you can’t do. I can’t speak Italian, or fix a car, and my gardening skills are limited to killing things. Those things are pretty easy for me to say no to.

It’s a whole lot harder to say no to things I know I can do. Things I can turn my hand to, things I can figure out, things that if I try hard enough I can master pretty well. Things other people might well ask me to do, because they know I’d do a pretty decent job at it (I once got offered a job by my financial advisor!). Even things that are easier to do than the work I know I should be doing!

But these things are not my strength, because they don’t strengthen me. They often take more time to figure out, more energy to complete and give me fleeting satisfaction rather than lasting fulfilment. Satisfaction that is limited to short term achievement “hey look I did that!”, people pleasing “somebody asked me to and I don’t want to let them down” and probably a dose of personal pride “ask a busy person…”

Ultimately they drain me, and distract me from the work that brings me alive, the work that calls the best out of me, the work that only I can do.

The problem with being capable is there are far too many things we ‘can’ do. And when we say yes to all those things, we end up with nothing left to give to the things we truly want to do.

Sometimes we need to say no, not because we can’t do it, but because it’s not the right thing for us to do.

Sometimes we need to say no, not because we can’t do it, but because someone else can.

Sometimes we need to say no, because we need to make space. Space for what we do best. Space for what we love. Space, so we can say yes wholeheartedly to what matters to us.

What do you need to say no to today?


  1. Diane Warburton

    I need to say no to so many things but because I’m so brand new to the business I’ve started, it’s such a juggling game between attracting customers and keeping my strengths alive. I have a sewing studio, so I have been given the opportunity to say no to dressmaking, as that doesn’t enthuse me. There are other local places to do that and a tutor has started using the studio for her sessions, so it’s worked out brilliantly. Saying no can work out well, as you find your true path.

    • Grace Marshall

      I love how you phrased that as an ‘opportunity to say no’ Diane!

Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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