What I learned when I stopped saying 'yes' to everything

Krista Thurrott
Getty Images
Getty Images

I should preface this by saying that, despite recent changes, I am definitely not a “no” person. Anyone who knows me can vouch that I am not one to sit still — in fact, if I spend more than a couple of hours in one place, I quickly slip into a panic. I think that is why I’ve become such a “yes” person, my fear around being idle causes me to agree to everything.

In university I moved away from my small, fishing town to go to school in Toronto where I didn’t know a single person. The summer before embarking on my central Canada road trip, I made a vow to myself to say “yes” to every opportunity (with a few exceptions such as hard drugs and dangerous events). This strategy did not disappoint. I had made more friends than I expected and learned a lot about the city in a short period of time. While this vow didn’t last my entire university career — I learned it was OK to say “no” to drinking every Thursday through Sunday — my habits carried over to my first job out of university.

After graduating, I returned home to a job at my local TV station, and it was there that my affinity for the word “yes” made a return. I was quickly working long shifts, sometimes returning to work my next shift mere hours after finishing my first. I wouldn’t change the learning opportunity for the world, but my crazy hours quickly carried over to my next job, working in public relations for a non-profit. Excited at the Monday – Friday, “normal” hours, I jumped in with both feet. This experience was the birthplace of my passion for storytelling and it was also the place where I learned the value of saying “no.”

Initially, as the “yes” girl, I dug myself into the habit of working long days, barely seeing my boyfriend and attending every event we had planned. My social life was non-existent, and if it weren’t for Sunday dinners, I probably wouldn’t have seen my family. My realization came to when I was sick for the fourth time that fall and my colleague said something my mother had been saying since my early university days: “You are burning the candle at both ends. It’s OK to say no sometimes.”

While it didn’t happen overnight, I slowly began to embrace the mantra. It wasn’t easy when my initial response was always yes, often accompanied by an encouraging smile. I would be lying if I said this change in priorities didn’t cause me to lose some friends — but I’d like to believe it has strengthened my relationships with others. When it came to my busy job, I learned to balance my tasks and prioritize. If I was asked to take something on I knew I couldn’t complete without drastically cutting into my other tasks, I’d politely decline while providing a positive solution to how the work could get done.

It’s embarrassing to turn away tasks at work, but it also proves that you are organized and goal-centered. If it’s something your boss really wants you to take on, there’s always room for discussion and most employers will appreciate your ability to manage your own portfolio.

Since leaving my previous job to pursue freelance writing, I have learned how important it is to schedule your days, while, of course, being realistic when it comes to setting deadlines. After a few failed attempts, ending my days feeling overwhelmed and disappointed that I hadn’t checked off every item on my to do list, I learned the value behind scheduling my time, not agreeing to everything that lands in my inbox and being mindful of my hours in the day.

So how do I know when to say no? I ask myself the following questions: does it serve me? Inspire me? Make my heart happy? If it’s not a hell yes, then it’s a hell no.

More than anything, saying no has taught me accountability. When I was always saying yes, I found myself agreeing to things I didn’t wholeheartedly want to be part of — and if I could look past the guilt, I’d often flake out of plans at the last minute. I like to think my relationships have strengthened because I only agree to opportunities that interest me, and as a result, I am more present and productive than ever before.

It wasn’t easy as a keener with sincere F.O.M.O., but this change has taught me a lot about myself and what I value. While I no longer feel the need to have evening plans every Thursday through Sunday (my wallet especially thanks me for this), I am more present than ever and my hours are most productive when I’m not spending time dreading events I halfheartedly agreed to attend.

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