Years ago, I read the book, The Art of Extreme Self-Care. Well… I read most of it.
I skimmed—okay skipped—Chapter 3. In that chapter, the author encouraged readers to master the art of disappointing people, and a huge component of that meant learning to say “no.” There were even scenarios and practice exercises at the end.
I could not do them. In fact, I found the concept somewhat unfathomable.
The word “no” is not a word I use well or often (my dog and kids would beg to differ, but they should also confess that the word apparently means nothing to them).
You see, I want people to like me, and I saw this “yes/sure/happy to help” behavior modeled for me growing up in the South. I carried it into my early years as a public relations professional and recall early evaluations citing my good attitude and willingness to tackle new ideas. I am wiser now and realize that too much selflessness is a disservice to myself, and frankly, to others in my life. Learning to say “no” can eliminate feelings of anger, exhaustion, and stress that can accompany a life of too many “yeses.”
When we fill our personal lives with tasks and projects we see as priorities, yet still feel unfulfilled, then it may be time to reconsider how we are spending our time. Saying “no” more often opens the possibility of saying “yes” to the important things in our lives. For me, those are family game nights, hobbies, time with friends, physical and spiritual health, or simply time to rest.
I love the rock, pebbles, sand analogy – a lesson which focuses on time management, and the importance of filling your “jar” appropriately. The rocks represent what matters most in your life and should go into your jar first. In fact, if you don’t put them in first, they won’t fit once you add the pebbles and sand (they represent the less important, yet necessary aspects of life). This same concept can be implemented when prioritizing what to say “yes” to in your life. Fair warning though: if your entire to-do list feels important to you and are your “rocks,” then you are at risk of resenting everything and everyone you are trying to make time for in your life; and trust me, that is no way to live.
We can use the same mindset in our professional lives. We can’t say “no” to all things work-related, but when and if there are choices on what fills some of the white space on your calendar, pause to think it over before saying “yes.” If you do contract work like I do, it can be tempting to take on any and all new projects, especially with the economic uncertainty that has come with 2020. Yet, this approach can jeopardize relationships with existing clients. You must evaluate whether you have the bandwidth and skill set to approach a new project and the learning curve that can come with it. You should also think about your free time and if you have enough of it. Sometimes the answer is “no.”
While saying “no” in some personal situations can and should be as short as those two letters, I think it is certainly acceptable to clarify your position a bit, in the realm of work. It is both professional and courteous to explain when the timing or project isn’t right for you, and perhaps offer other creative partners who may be a good fit for the work if possible. Regardless of how you approach it, let go of the guilt. We all want growth in our personal and professional worlds but remember that balance and self-care are also critical in all aspects of out lives.
So, say “yes” to saying “no” to people more often.
Trust me, they’ll still like you.