It’s not a secret that saying “no” is NOT easy.
It is hard to let someone down or let yourself down. What if you miss something cool that is about to happen?
The truth is you already say no ALL the time. What’s hard is doing it deliberately and strategically. What’s hard is saying no when you actually want to instead of when you feel you forced to or choose to say no at random.
Way back when I moved to New York City I experienced a “just say no” mindset shift. Like most people, the greater self-awareness I had at that moment did not lead to instant change in behavior but I have gradually improved in this area. I don’t always say “no” to favors and opportunities even when I should, but when I do, I feel good about it.
So what happened? How did moving to a busy, exciting city full of endless opportunitiy make it EASIER for me to say no?
First, I recoganized pretty quickly that it was happening whether I liked it or not. Everyone I met seemed to be inviting me to their show, art opening, fundraiser, birthday, or their boyfriends/roommates/friends/coworkers band. Yes, this is really what happened.
I was saying no because no matter how late I stayed out or skilled I became at taking the subway, I still didn’t get to everything. I was always missing something I thought would be cool.
That’s not just for the social scene of a 30 year old recent transplant to the greatest city in the world. ANYTHING we do has limits. If you are trying to serve more customers, get more votes, or raise more money, or go on more dates, at some point there are only so many hours in the day.
The second thing was, I noticed that if I took a night off I woudn’t be left without plans the next night. It was indeed the abundance of options that made it easier for me to skip some of them.
No matter where you live, the number of jobs you can apply for and the number of ways you can spend your time are increasing. I am not talking about an overall increase in available jobs, I am referring to the volume of information we have about jobs, events, and activities because of technology. There is Ziprecruiter, Indeed, and LinkedIn in addition to all the more traditional ways of learning about openings. Whether you are into music, art, grassroots activism, helping out a political candidate, or trying the latest restaurant, there are more and more ways to find out how to spend your time (and in politics an actual increase in ways to get involved and take action).
There are also so many ways to approach your career. Whether you like it or not you may be in a job market or industry where you are expected to work freelance, take on multiple jobs, or change companies every few years in order to grow in your profession. That’s a lot more moments in our lives we are expected to make a yes or no decision and declaration.
Saying no to a job, a favor for someone, a volunteer task, a donation request, or a social event is inevitable. But, don’t just start indescriminately weilding your new power to turn things down.
When you are clear with yourself that NO is a guilt free part of your job as a person that is when saying YES becomes the centerpiece of your planning and interactions. You can even set up some thoughtful, specific criteria that is aligned with your values and goals to prepare yourself to say no with kindness, clarity, and confidence. Then, saying no may never be truly easy but it can be a satisfying way to create space for the opportunities we choose instead of those we are left with at the end of trying to do it all.