Learning to Say No

learning to say no
Photo by Daria Tumanova on Unsplash

A friend and I were talking about the Jim Carrey film Yes Man awhile back. In case you haven’t seen it, in the film Jim Carrey’s character says no to everything. But one day he decides to start saying yes to every opportunity that comes his way. And, of course, his life changes for the better.

But if you’re a woman, you’re probably used to saying yes to everything anyway. Society ingrains in us from an early age that we shouldn’t disappoint people. That we should try to make other people happy, even at the expense of our own happiness. We should be likable above all else. (Not that there aren’t men out there who hate saying no—there are plenty of them, but there don’t tend to be the same societal expectations.)

And so my friend and I joked that for women, you’d have to change the premise of the movie to the main character saying no to everything.

Imagine that: don’t want to do something? Just say no. Tired and want to stay in instead of heading out for a date? Say no. Rather not spend your entire savings attending a distant relative’s wedding? Nope, not gonna do it.

Your time is the most valuable thing you own. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. Once you’ve wasted it, it’s gone forever. If you spend your time making everyone else happy, what time is left to make yourself happy?

As a creative, you have to get over the idea of being likable and making everyone else happy all the time if you want to have any time for your own pursuits. You have to learn to guard your time for the things that are important to you. That are important to your goals.

Why Saying No is So Hard

As human beings, we want to make connections with other people. And saying no when someone asks something of us feels like a dangerous proposition. What if that “no” ends up breaking whatever bond may be forming? We feel embarrassed if we say no, and often guilty for disappointing the other person.

Saying no can also impact our view of ourselves. If you think of yourself as someone who never lets people down, then saying no goes against that view.

Do It Anyway

Protecting your time is vital to being creative. If you’re constantly running around making everyone else happy, you won’t be able to make yourself happy. And pro tip: if you’re unhappy, you aren’t as good at taking care of things, including people.

Block out time in your schedule for the things that help you recharge. And block out time in your schedule for your creative pursuits, whether they’re hobbies or your livelihood.

When someone then asks you to do something that infringes on that time, simply tell them no. If you absolutely must offer an excuse, you have a legitimate one: you have something else scheduled then. Treat  your time with yourself like you would any appointment and safeguard it against intrusions.

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