The Power of Saying No
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“You’re going to have the baby today.”
The urgency in my doctor’s voice made my mouth go dry. My due date wasn’t for another eight weeks. Immediately, panic set in. “What?!” I called out. “It’s too early! I have too much to do! My husband’s not even here! I’m not ready!” But the decision was already made. My schedule for the day, my plans, the work I had to get done—none of it mattered. Ready or not, my baby was coming.
When I awoke an hour later, my daughter had already been delivered by an emergency c-section. As I drifted in and out of a druggy sleep, a nagging voice in the back of my head reminded me of something I hadn’t considered: What am I going to tell my clients?
As a freelancer, I have developed a steady client list thanks in large part to my willingness to take on any job, big or small, at any time. But in the span of a few minutes, everything changed. With the reality of motherhood facing me, I was going to have to learn how to add a new word to my professional vocabulary: No.
Embracing the Power of ‘No’
As I lay in my hospital bed a few hours after my daughter’s birth, I grew rather anxious about my clients. Was I going to lose customers because I couldn’t physically sit up to work on a computer?
The reality of course, was that there was no way I could complete all my work. I asked my husband to type up emails to my clients, saying to each of them, “No, I cannot complete the work this week; I’ve just given birth.” As he hit send on the emails, my anxiety skyrocketed as I awaited their responses. For the first time since starting my freelancing business, I had said no; I had no idea what the repercussions would be for myself or my company.
But as my clients responded, something miraculous happened: no one was upset. In fact, not one of them indicated any worry about my getting them their work. Instead, their emails were full of appreciation for my honesty and elation for my new arrival. I realized that this, like everything, had happened for a reason.
Since then, I’ve had to say no more often than ever before. But it has taught me five empowering lessons:
- It puts me in control of my life, allowing me to decide what is best for my situation.
- It curtails what I do not need, letting me focus on what matters the most.
- It makes me more honest, both with my clients and with myself, on how much work I can actually manage to get done while caring for a newborn.
- It forces me to be a self-advocate, opening me up for opportunities that matter and allowing me to ask for what I really want.
- It focuses me in a way I never have been focused before, helping me prioritize my tasks and put my own and my family’s needs first.
Over the last seven weeks, I have utilized no a number of times, and not just for business—I’ve turned down dinners with friends (which would have broken my budget), disagreed with some of the unsolicited parenting advice I’ve been given, and even (sadly) cut down on the number of favors I do for others. To me, no has become a way for me to be truthful to my goals and what I want out of life.
Saying ‘No,’ Not ‘Never’
A couple of days after my daughter’s birth, finally able to sit up again, I opened my computer and got back to work, writing an article for a client. I didn’t necessarily have to go back to work; I could have taken my time. But if saying no helped me prioritize and advocate for myself better, it also helped me redefine what the word means. No, you see, is not the same as never.
A few weeks ago, Tonya explained how learning to embrace the word yes brought a transformative positivity to her life. I think the reason we don’t feel as empowered about the word no is because we associate it with negative emotions like rejection and denial. From a young age, we’re told “No-No” when our parents don’t want us to do something, and when we use it as kids (like to indicate that we don’t want to eat broccoli), we are punished for it. In other words, using the word no makes us feel guilty, angry, or embarrassed.
But we shouldn’t. Saying no to a client, a friend, a family member, etc. doesn’t mean you don’t want to work/spend time with that person or take hold of that opportunity. Rather, it means that at this time, I am unable to. By becoming more comfortable in simply saying no, I can now hear it without feeling immediately rejected or denied. And I can say it more readily without having to fear that others will feel the same.
I’ve found power in saying no, and I’m not about to let it go.
How comfortable are you with saying ‘no’ to work or other opportunities? When was the last time you said ‘no’ to something? How did it work out for you?
Michelle is a 20-something new mom and business owner. By day, she writes romance novels. By night, she works hard on conquering her $45,000 in outstanding debt. You can read more about her journey at Fit is the New Poor or follow her on Twitter.
John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.
Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.
Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.