Part of it was because I didn’t like to leave people in the lurch. Another part was because I didn’t want to disappoint others. There was also a part of me felt that saying no could mean burning bridges with others (a deep-set part of the Asian culture), and I didn’t want to jeopardize my relationships with others.
Reality of Saying Yes
While saying yes might seem like an easy way out of the conundrum above, in reality it was a terrible solution.
Because while it provided quick short-term relief – avoiding confrontation with others and dealing with uncomfortable emotions – saying yes has its own long-term implications. Because every time we say yes to something, we say no to our own priorities. Consider the following:
- Each time you say yes to things you don’t really enjoy, you say no to the things you do enjoy.
- Each time you say yes to things you’re not really keen about, you say no to the goals you could be working on.
- Each time you say yes to meetups that often go nowhere, you say no to time with the people you really care about.
- And each time you say yes to yet another favor, you say no to the things most important to you.
So when I first started my business, I said yes to almost everything. Meetups, networking sessions, pick-my-brain sessions, favors, collaborations, blog interviews, media interviews, workshops – it was a yes, yes, yes all the way.
This worked well for the first few years. But as my business grew, as I became more established in my field, I found myself with more requests, invitations, and demands than I could humanly fulfill. I also regularly received requests for things I didn’t really care about, from people who were proactive and aggressive in getting my time, which then constantly moved these things to the top of my list.
Suddenly, my days became filled with what others wanted from me. I found myself busy meeting people and satisfying their curiosity about what I do, but not nudging forward in the things on my list. I found myself busy doing interviews, answering emails for help, collaborating with others as a favor, agreeing to sessions to pick my brain, and doling out free advice to people’s problems, with no time for my own projects.
Soon, I became burnt out. My time was no longer my own – it was taken over by what others wanted from me. This was when I realized the importance of saying no.
Why Saying No is Important
- Get things done. The reality is that all of us have limited hours a day. Unless we say no to the other things, we’ll never have time to get things done.
- Have time for the important. There is a category of goals that are highly important but will never become urgent, called the Quadrant 2 goals. They include finding your purpose, setting your five-year vision, working on your passion, and even starting your business. Saying no is about protecting your Q2 goals and ensuring that you have time for them.
- Set boundaries. Some people may assume that you are free all the time, that their requests are the most important, or that you should make time out for them and them only. When you don’t draw a line between your needs and others’ needs, people will keep assuming that you should give and give by default. Saying no is about setting boundaries and protecting your space.