Feeling Obligated? Apply the Celery Test

Katie Corbett holds the book, "Start With Why"

By Katie Corbett

Confession time: I’m a people-pleaser who avoids conflict. I often used to find myself saying yes to people and projects simply because I felt obligated to do so. Resentment would build, motivation to accomplish tasks would wane, and I would be left feeling annoyed and grumpy that I had agreed to do things I had no interest in doing, all because I couldn’t say no. Developing a purpose statement for who I am and what I do changed everything.

Getting clear on your “why” can keep you from taking on projects that don’t inspire you or line up with your life’s purpose. In “Start with Why,” by Simon Sinek, the author describes this process as “The Celery Test.” Sinek applied this test in the business world.

The celery test goes something like this, to paraphrase Sinek. People will tell you many things are good to try in your business. Some will say, “You should get M&M’s in your business; everyone likes those.” Others will say, “Oreos! Success lies with Oreos.” Still others will say, “Celery! That’s the way to attract customers.” You could go to the store and buy Oreos, M&M’s and celery. Would someone looking at your shopping cart know why you are in business? That, of course, will depend on your “why” statement. If your “why” consists of being all things to all people—which is not sustainable or desirable—then this might work. But if your “why” is to provide healthy snacks, the Oreos and M&M’s would make no sense. If, however, you walk by with celery and granola bars, anyone who peeks into your grocery cart knows healthy food is important to you.

I’ve applied this test as an individual with liberating results. When I’m asked to volunteer for a nonprofit or take on paid projects, I evaluate them through the filter of my “why.” Will this project encourage people to overcome challenges? If so, then great; I’ll consider it. If not, I can say no with confidence that I’m making the right decision for me.

After you’ve discovered your “why,” apply the celery test the next time you’re asked to do something. You’ll know right away if the task doesn’t fit with your skills and interests and can say no with confidence.

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