It’s OK to Say No

MarcilieWork / Life Balance6 Comments

I’ve written about this word before.

It was in the context of parenting, however, and this time I’d like to share the empowering side of “no” in the context of life in general.

It’s funny that I feel inspired to write about “no” when I’ve just begun an improvisational comedy class where the motto is “Yes, and . . . “

So I want to first acknowledge that I definitely subscribe to the philosophy of being open to life, open to possibility, and open to new experiences.  YES!  And. . . It’s still OK to say no.

I see it often in my coaching practice:  high-achieving, hard-working, kind and generous parents and professionals who have a hard time saying no.

Some of them have a hard time saying no to a fun night out even though they are exhausted.

Some have a hard time saying no to their work colleague who pops in to chat at the end of the day, even though they’re dying to get home.

Some have a hard time saying no because they think they can do it all – all of what’s already on their plate AND that new thing, too — but then find that it takes longer than they think, and the unexpected little things all add up.

Some have a hard time saying no because they know they are capable of doing that thing well, and they don’t want to let others down.

Most of us have the best of intentions when we take on more at the request of others (or ourselves). We want to be helpful, supportive, and productive. We want to show up for others and live life fully. We don’t want to let others down.

Showing up for others, being open to new experiences, and being of service are wonderful reasons to say yes.

The problem comes when the “yes” leads to exhaustion, overwhelm, stress, poor self-care, or irritability (etc.) in yourself.  The fear of letting others downs can end up letting yourself down — or someone very close to you.

I know you’ve been there. Some of us are there more than others. Are you there now?

Here’s a little tip I came across years ago:  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULDYou are talented, competent and capable of doing a lot of great things.  You want to be thoughtful, helpful, productive and kind.  When there’s something to be done, you may feel like you should jump in and do it.  Well, not necessarily!

When you say, “yes” to something, recognize that you are saying “no” to something else.  What are you saying “no” to?  You might be saying “no” to much needed alone time, exercise, conversation and connection with loved ones, or sleep.  Do you really want to make that trade-off?  Sometimes the answer will be yes.

The point is to be conscious of the trade-off.

I struggle with saying, “no” at times, too. Like you, I am capable of doing a lot of great things. I don’t like to let people down. I want to be helpful and contribute to my communities.

So I struggled when the President of the Parent Association at my kids’ school asked me to co-lead a new initiative with her. I really liked her and thought it would be fun to work with her. The initiative was a worthy cause and one that I was sure I could do well.

However, I was already overcommitted.  I knew in my gut that another project would be too much. And still, I was leaning toward accepting.

I paused long enough for the President to notice my hesitation. She then said something unexpected:  “It’s OK to say no.”

“It is?” I replied. “Wow, thank you. No.”

I was so relieved. All she had to do was reassure me that she wouldn’t be upset if I said no. And then the no was clear.

So that’s my second tip for you . . . whenever someone asks you to do something that is optional, imagine that person following up the request with, “It’s OK to say no.”

Because it is.

You may still decide to say yes!  That decision depends on your own set of values and commitments, for sure.  But to say no in order to protect your highest values and commitments is most definitely OK!

And if you want to decline, but can’t right away, perhaps you can say, “Let me think about it.” Then give yourself some time to consciously consider what you will happily say “no” to, in order to make room for this new, “yes.”

Let me know what you think!  I always appreciate your comments ( :

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6 Comments on “It’s OK to Say No”

    1. Thanks, Helena! This quote reminds me that I don’t have to try save the whole world all at once!

  1. Marcilie great post. I had a similar experience recently with a leader at the elementary school asking me to be on the parent board. Those thoughts went through my head, “I want to help, contribute, get to know people, help improve the school for the kids, etc… and not let this parent who is doing so much herself, down!” In a split second I said, “I’d love to help out and my strengths are in parent education or working directly with the kids in an educational capacity… is there something in that realm that I could do.” She quickly and excitedly replied, “We really need parents who are able to teach the kids the drug and alcohol curriculum and know one wants to do that!” Ahhhh… it felt so good to say what would work for me and have it turn out to be what was actually needed 🙂

    Thanks for helping me think more deeply about this experience of saying “No but…” 🙂

    1. Lisa, thanks for your comment! I appreciate your adding the idea that sometimes the answer is not a straight yes, or no, but rather, “here are the conditions under which I can say yes!” Love it. ( :

  2. Thanks Marcilie for your always-insightful post. You are right – it is time to take the guilt or shame out of using the word “No”. We should trust and love ourselves enough to be confident in doing it.

    1. Thank you for your comment! And thank you for making the connection with self-love. I think you’re right on.

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