Saying Yes is easy. Saying No takes practice.
For the month of what I’m coining NO-vember, I want you to say No to one thing every day. You’ll start getting good at saying yes to the right things.
Saying no is hard. That’s why they call it a ‘hard no’. It’s especially hard when you’re a people-pleaser like me. Someone asks you if you can do a shitty comedy gig in Hoboken, or design a poster for their podcast for zero money, you say yes in the moment because it makes you feel good, but then you have to sit with the knowledge that you just said yes to something you’re only doing to make yourself look like a nice person.
It doesn’t make future you feel nice for doing it — it makes you feel terrible that you now have to do it, and can’t go back on your word. The time for no has passed. You dread it, you procrastinate, you keep worrying about it until the day comes that it’s time to deliver on your yes.
A post-yes-I’ll-do-it “No” is the hardest “No” to master. But it’s possible.
You’ve already said yes. You’ve already got the nice feeling it gave you in the moment, and now you don’t want to look like a flake, or, at worst, a dick for going back on your word. So you go ahead and do the thing anyway, begrudgingly, all the while cursing yourself and probably the client/friend for making you do it.
Or worse, you said yes to a party, a gig, a dinner party, an event of some kind that you know is going to make you miserable, but saying yes was way easier than coming up with an excuse in the moment, or worse, saying No.
This is NO way to live.
Like I said, saying No is not an easy thing to do. But if you want to start filling your days with things that actually make you happy instead of the obligatory crap that just takes up time, you’re going to be way better off.
For years I took on every job that came in. Both out of fear that I didn’t know where my next paycheque was coming from (15 years of freelancing will do that to you) and also out of wanting to have a can-do attitude, and a reputation for being nice.
It led to over a decade of my weeks filled with dread and stress, always putting off the work I wanted to do for the work I had to do. It was an idiotic way to live, but the cycle was endless, and I didn’t know how to say No. It wasn’t even in my vocabulary!
I read Amy Pohler’s “Yes Please!” and took the message a little too far. I was Yes-anding every single opportunity that came in the door, and instead of being better off, I was overworked, stressed and racing toward a full-scale depressive meltdown.
I hit a tipping point at the end of last October, where every single job in my inbox was something I was miserable doing, and sapped the job out of what was a once-joyful activity; drawing. I would find excuses not to do it (like writing Medium posts about saying No) and procrastinate right up until deadline just to fuck myself over, inevitably pulling an all-nighter just to make the job even less enjoyable. I was miserable.
That November, I resolved to say No to every job that came in that wasn’t part of my ‘big-picture goal. It was terrifying. I didn’t know if I was going to make enough money to cover rent that month if I didn’t take on every opportunity.
Then something amazing* happened.
The space created in my schedule by knocking back busy work was available for the bigger opportunities that presented themselves. All of a sudden, my options opened up and I started taking on work I actually enjoyed. All of a sudden, No felt really really good to say, because it meant saying yes to something better.
No is a decision. Yes is a responsibility.
The Power of No:
The NOvember Challenge: I want you to say NO to one thing every day for the entire month of NOvember.
It doesn’t have to be anything big. Start small:
Want another sugar in your coffee?
One more round of drinks at 2am?
Want to come to my off-off-Broadway play about refugee guinea fowls? Um…
Now you try it. Tell me it doesn’t change everything.
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