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The Power of No

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the word “no.”

No is a word that has great power in our lives and in our society. And yet, it’s one of the most challenging words in our vocabulary.

Every time I’ve heard “no” in my professional life, I’ve challenged myself to defy it. To go around it. I’ve used it as fuel to keep fighting—whether it’s in chasing a hard-to-get interview, or in proving to doctors and researchers that Alzheimer’s does indeed discriminate against women, even when they told me it doesn’t.

In fact, all of the Architects of Change we feature in this week’s Sunday Paper have heard the word “no” at some point. Some have heard it from others, who told them that what they wanted to achieve could not be done. Others have said it themselves, declaring that one thing or another in our society is unacceptable and that they won’t rest until they’ve done something to change it.

Jane Goodall pushed back when she was told, “No, silly girl. Chimps don’t have feelings.” Treger Strasberg said, “No, this woman is not going to be homeless and live in a shelter. I’m going to create a welcoming home for her and now hundreds of others.” My friend Devon Franklin has used the word “no” to stay focused on his personal path to success and also preaches how saying “no” can lead you to the right yes. I love that.

No is a word that, if you push past it, can propel you forward. It’s also a word that can empower you to take ownership over your life and define it by your own terms.

When I went to a retreat earlier this year, one of the lines that stuck with me the most was this: “For your yes to mean something, so must your no.”


No has power. No can mean something isn’t right for you. It can mean, “I have a boundary and don’t you dare cross it.” Or, “Don’t talk to me like that.” “No, I don’t deserve that.” “No, I’m not going to stand for that.” “No, I can’t make that event this evening. I need time for myself.”

You have to be strong and confident to use your no. You have to be brave, just as so many women were this week when speaking out against a Hollywood power player. You have to believe in yourself against all odds, just as those who have come up against climate change naysayers and politics-as-usual have done. You have to never give up, even if you hear the word again and again. I was reminded of that this week when the women of Saudi Arabia earned the right to drive. They started fighting for that right in 1990 and were shunned for nearly three decades. Now, this month, they finally get to celebrate that the ban has ended.

No is a word that does not come easily to most people. I know it’s been hard for me at different times in my life. I’ve struggled to put my foot down in situations where I knew I should have. I’ve struggled to say no to my children. I’ve struggled to say no to worthy causes that have asked for my time. I’ve struggled to say no when I just didn’t want to go to a party or an event, but I did it anyway because I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

But, over the years, I’ve come to realize how empowering the word “no” can be. It is a way to speak up. It is a way to speak out. We may feel vulnerable when we say it, but in doing so, we will feel liberated by speaking our truth. Thanks to various experiences and wise teachers, I’ve learned that embracing “no” makes my “yes” all the more meaningful.

So, if you are struggling with your no, allow yourself to be inspired by these Architects of Change. Allow yourself to use the word in small ways. (No, you can’t talk to me like that… No, that’s not what I said… No, unfortunately, I can’t make that…) Doing so will help you when you really have to put your foot down.

And, if you hear that two letter word from someone else, remember to use it as fuel to change the world.

And, if you hear that two letter word from someone else, remember to use it as fuel to change the world.

Want to receive Maria’s perspective, as well as other inspirational content, in your inbox each week? Sign up to receive Maria’s Sunday Paper newsletter by clicking HERE.



“Nature Can Win If We Give Her a Chance”: Architect of Change Jane Goodall never let the word “no” stop her from pursuing her passion to study chimpanzees on her own in the wilds of Africa. Her passion for conversation has helped me think about our world differently, and I’m sure it will do the same for you. I had the great honor of interviewing her this week about her conservation efforts and her new National Geographic documentary, “Jane.” 



Life-Changing Lessons to Propel Your Career: Architect of Change DeVon Franklin, a renowned preacher and successful Hollywood executive, believes that hearing “no” as you pursue your goals will keep your mind focused on achieving what you really want in life. I sat down with DeVon this week to discuss his latest book, “The Hollywood Commandments: A Spiritual Guide to Secular Success.”  or read an



“Anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the United States, affecting nearly one-third of both adolescents and adults.” As we reflect on the power of “no,” a story that really stood out for me this week was this piece from the New York Times Magazine about how many of today’s teenagers are suffering from severe anxiety.  While it’s certainly easy to understand in today’s society, it also makes me wonder: could they be having a difficult time saying “no” to modern pressures? 



Anti-Bullying Campaign Teaches Girls to Find the Kind: Lauren Paul and Molly Thompson have made it their mission to say “no” to girl-against-girl bullying. After traveling across the country to interview women for their bullying awareness documentary, Finding Kind, they created the Kind Campaign to motivate girls to take a stand for themselves. In recognition of October being National Bullying Prevention Month, we caught up with them to learn more. Their story is truly inspiring.



At least 31 people have been killed in devastating wildfires that continue to sweep across California. May all who reached out to victims of the recent hurricanes and earthquakes think of California.



Architect of Change of the Week Treger Strasberg has made it her mission to assist families coming out of homeless and abuse shelters with the process of rebuilding their home lives. Through the work of her nonprofit Humble Design, Treger has been bold in her declaration that no-one deserves to live in a home that isn’t clean, friendly and dignified.


My brother Timothy shared this photo with me this week. Pope Francis asked to meet with Special Olympics athletes, and on Friday, he took the time to do so. He’s done it twice before, and each time, it moves me. It’s such a beautiful, touching and fun sight to see. May your day be filled with the same.



I was so excited this week to announce a new partnership with my dear friend Sean Hayes, one of the stars of NBC’s beloved sitcom “Will & Grace.” From now until October 20, you can donate to the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement using this link and be entered to win a trip to LA to visit the set of “Will & Grace!” You’ll also get to tour the set and meet the cast. Go here to learn more. Enter the contest today!

Get Empowered. Pass It Forward.

Visit the shop on MariaShriver.com to learn more about Maria’s line of books and products! A portion of all proceeds benefit her nonprofit, the Women Alzheimer’s Movement.