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The Art of Saying “No”

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I used to pride myself on being a “yes” person. I said an enthusiastic “YES!” to every opportunity I was presented with. “Yes” to more clients, “Yes” to more collaborations, “Yes” to more parties. There’s really only one big problem with being a yes person: When you say “yes” to everything, you are also unintentionally saying “no” to other things that might be even more important. This can be a dangerous game.

After years of being a non-stop “yes” person, I found myself fried, frazzled, and teetering on burnout. These feelings would result in frequent outbursts where I would look at my calendar and exclaim, “what have I done?!” My husband, Jordan, would shake his head at me and say, “You should fire your scheduler,” a reminder that I made my own calendar and set my own rules. Saying “no” did not come easy to me, but with a lot of practice, I can actually say that I’ve fully embraced the art of “no.” If you struggle with declining invitations, requests, or opportunities, this one’s for you.

saying no

Decide What You Want to Say “Yes” To

Before you can become a confident nay sayer, you must first clarify your values, priorities, and goals. What do you want to pour your time, money, and energy into? What do you want to create? What do you want to contribute to the world? What do you want to create space for? What new results do you want in your life? Getting very clear on your goals and values will make it much easier to decline opportunities that don’t align with or support them.

Start Small

If saying “no” to someone makes you cringe a little (or a lot), start by taking baby steps. Unsubscribe from all of the junk emails that flood your inbox. Say “no thank you” to a telemarketer who calls with a solicitation. Decline the person handing out fliers or free samples or swag bags if you really don’t want them. I’ve gotten very used to smiling and exclaiming “no thank you!” at pretty much every offer and solicitation. I say no to free gifts, swag bags, buy-one-get-one-free offers, prizes – you name it. The more you “no” the easier it will feel.

Find Your Version of “No”

People assume that saying “no” has to be rude. On the contrary! There are lots of perfectly gracious and pleasant ways of saying no. Example: I am extremely selective about which brands I partner with, which means that I’ve had to find a comfortable way of saying “no” to 99% of the companies who approach me. I now have a brief, friendly email that essentially says, “thank you so much for thinking of me, and taking the time to reach out. I only take on a few brand partnerships each year, but I’ll keep your info on file, and wish you all the best with your business goals.” My note is always well received, and since I’ve created it as a template it takes two seconds of my time to send.

You may need a different “no” to use outside of work situations. When my girls were young and I was working full time, I often had to say “no” to the seemingly endless opportunities to volunteer at their school. I was asked so often, I ultimately came up with the phrase, “I’d love to help, but I’m not able to add anything else to my plate right now.”

Allow Other People to Feel Disappointed

Agreeing to do things because you’re scared of disappointing people rarely results in a net positive. While it never feels great to disappoint people, bending over backwards to try to people-please at the cost of your own needs is not the answer.

Once you have clarified how you want to spend your precious time, energy, and resources, the next step is to accept that not everyone will like it. I’ve had shopkeepers scowl at me when I decline offers, deals, or promotions. I’ve had other parents openly judge me for not volunteering enough at school fundraisers. I’ve disappointed some close colleagues when I’ve declined opportunities to collaborate on social media. Believe me, I hate letting other people down, but as long as I make sure I feel in integrity with my choices, and like my reasons for saying “no”, I can accept it.

When I do less, I always do the remaining things better. When I decline new work opportunities, it means I am creating space to work on my manuscript, or give my full energy to my current clients. When I used to see clients six or even seven days a week, I was spread thin and couldn’t do my best work. It was painful for me to turn away work, but I would always prefer to do exceptional work for a few people than mediocre work for dozens. When I say those hard “no’s” I remind myself what I am saying “yes” to instead.

Cultivate JOMO

JOMO, or The Joy of Missing Out is a term I discovered a few years ago. As a card carrying member of the FOMO club, I am working to embrace this new and improved concept. JOMO is defined as “a feeling of contentment with one’s own pursuits and activities, without worrying over the possibility of missing out on what others may be doing.” BAM. If you have a hard time saying “no” because you fear you will be missing out on something better, remind yourself that you have the capacity to create exactly what you want wherever you are.

Saying no is a skill that will help you create clear boundaries with yourself and others, and will ultimately help you live a more authentic and intentional life. Practice it in the mirror. Say it a hundred different ways until it feels right. Make “no” your friend for life.

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10 comments on “The Art of Saying “No”

  1. So, so good, Shira! Thank you. Saying “no” absolutely does get easier, and I love how you point out that we’re able to say “no” in a polite way while staying true to our own goals and values. Wonderful post!

  2. Wow. I really appreciate this article. Thank you for sharing it. I am SO looking forward to cultivating JOMO. God Bless you and your family.

  3. Such an important concept! I read that Warren Buffet taught his driver that he should list his twenty-five top priorities, then circle the top five, then cross the rest off of his list… Learning to focus our energies on the contributions that are most important to us is a valuable skill.

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