Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Necessity of No

Uberproducer (and my personal hero; probably yours, too) Shonda Rhimes has a new book out – The Year of Yes. It’s garnered great reviews and hit the New York Times bestseller list. I haven’t read it yet – it’s on my TBR list, of course! – but in it, Shonda talks about how she changed her life when she started saying yes to things she usually said no to. Delivering Ted talks. Going on talk shows. Eating healthy. Etc.

From where I’m sitting, life looks pretty good when you’re asked to deliver TED talks or go on Jimmy Kimmel, but Shonda – despite creating and producing some of the best TV shows evah! – said she was depressed. I wholeheartedly agree, though, that when you want to do something but you’re too afraid to do it, that’s not a fun situation to be in.

Unfortunately, though, most of us aren’t turning down invitations to address our alma mater’s graduating class. Most of us are getting invitations to volunteer for our child’s PTA, take on administrative duties at our offices (which are not related to our position, nor come with extra cash), walk our neighbor’s dog, or stuff envelopes for a friend’s charity. And we – usually begrudgingly – end up saying yes.

Most women I know have busy lives and big goals. They are raising families, pursuing careers, trying to get to the gym on a regular basis, wanting more time with close friends, and perhaps even pursuing a dream – writing, painting, singing. In order to accomplish the big things they’re up to in their lives, they simply don’t have time to make cupcakes for the school bake sale, drive a hundred miles for a second cousin’s first birthday party, and spearhead the office toy drive. Yet women are constantly asked to do all these tasks and more, and often say yes because of societal pressure to be nice and personal feelings of obligation.
But sometimes you just have to say no.

Not to everything, of course. If that second cousin’s mother is a dear family member whom you miss seeing, take the time and make the drive. (Or go up a day when she’s not so busy with the party and other guests.) But too many of us are spending valuable time on activities that do nothing to forward our personal and professional goals. Then at the end of the week, the month, the year, we wonder why we never wrote that book, took that weekend getaway with our college roommate, or got through the Oz series of books with our first grader.

Know your personal goals. Know your professional goals. Then say no to activities that don’t forward either. For instance, if one of your goals is to spend more time with dear friends, then don’t join that new meet-up group. Use that time instead to have coffee with a good friend you haven’t seen in a while.
A close cousin to saying no is the “yes, but.” Say yes to invitations that sound interesting, but set boundaries right away. Yes, you’ll meet your friend’s niece to give career advice, but only if she comes to your office. Yes, you’ll help your nephew fundraise for his sports team, but only through sending a few emails.

One word of caution, though – when you start saying no and setting limits, you’re bound to piss off a few people who have counted on your easy-going nature. Don’t let yourself get bullied or made to feel bad. Stick to your guns. What’s worse than saying a firm no or setting boundaries is to say a begrudging yes, and then do a poor job or cancel at the last minute. We all have people like that in our lives, and they contribute to our feeling overwhelmed.

In a similar vein, I have decided to cut down posting on my blog from almost every week to once or twice a month. With over three years of posting, and almost a hundred and fifty posts, I’m just not getting the return I need to make more frequent postings worthwhile. I’ll reconsider if things change.

This will give me more time to do other things, including reading Shonda Rhimes’ latest, The Year of Yes.

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