It's Okay to Say No

You’ve heard of the phrase, “Say ‘yes’ to everything.” It’s terrible advice, and here’s why.

When Saying Yes Is A Good Thing

One of the first things I learned in life was that saying “no” was a bad thing.

My mom always told me, “Say yes. Never say no.” Now, that worked in the worldly context of a toddler, where your only decisions are limited to dilemmas like, “to take a bath or not to take a bath.” It is also worth noting that my mom wasn’t referring to philosophies like grabbing life by the horns or carpe diem. For her, “Say yes. Never say no” really meant, “Please stop throwing a tantrum every time I need you to take a bath or go to sleep before 9pm.” But, it also worked as a universal philosophy.

During adolescence, I started taking my mother’s advice of “Say yes. Never say no” and applying it to the context of the real world. Through middle school and high school, I said yes to everything.

“Can you edit my paper?” Yeah, I can!

“Does anyone want to be class representative for the gift drive?” I did.

“We have a volunteer opportunity!” I’ll be there.

“Who wants to run for secretary?” Me.

“Do you want to audition?” Of course I do!

“Can you come in and help teach this class?” Sure thing!

“Can you cover my shift?” Um…yeah, okay. I can do that.

If I saw an opportunity to learn something new or gain leadership skills, I took it. I was motivated to do everything. In a sense, it was good. Saying yes to a lot of things meant I gained valuable life experiences. But, what did it cost? Saying yes to everything is only beneficial to an extent.

When Saying No Is A-Okay

If you’re like me and spent at least 18 years learning to say yes, then you probably know the struggle of trying to do everything you love and want to do all at once. But, now, I’m telling you that sometimes, saying no can be the better option. Here’s why:

You’re probably already doing enough.

My biggest concern when I started saying no to things was that I wasn’t doing enough. I wanted to be a Jack of all trades. I wanted to do everything and anything. So, when I started dropping some of my activities and saying no to new opportunities that came up, I felt guilty. Everyone around me seemed to be bustling around, staying busy and pursuing things they wanted to achieve.

But, the reality was that I was doing as much as I could handle. Some people are capable of handling more priorities than others. Everyone’s plates are different sizes. Just because you’re not doing as much as your neighbor, doesn’t mean you’re not doing enough.

So, it’s okay to say no. Sometimes it’s responsible to say no.

Time management is just as valuable as doing a lot of cool things.

Being busy is good, but like my dad always says, everyone has 24-hours in a day. Think about it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average adult should get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. That leaves you with 17 hours in the day. But, consider everything else you need to do. School? Work? Both? You can’t forget you need time to take care of yourself. What about eating? Bathing? That only leaves you with so much time to pursue other commitments.

You can’t do everything in one day. When you say yes to everything, you’re committing to it all. Saying no doesn’t have to mean sacrificing everything you want to do. It just means you have to manage your time. Managing time means you have to prioritize certain things. This brings us to our next point.

Narrow in on your goals.

A Jack of all trades is a master of none. In trying to do everything, you sacrifice the time and energy you need to put into your main objectives in life.

Saying no to some opportunities allows you to focus on specific goals. Doing too much and having too much on your plate makes it impossible to put your heart and soul into each activity. When deciding whether to take up a new opportunity, it would help to think: Does it serve your long-term goals? Does it help you in the goals you want to prioritize?

Sometimes passing off opportunities feels like a loss, but really, saying no allows you to put more time into commitments that serve your goals.

Leave yourself available for better opportunities.

Saying no to some opportunities leaves you open for other opportunities better suited for you. If you don’t have the time to commit to another opportunity, don’t worry. Something else will always come along, and you’ll be available to take it when it comes around.  

You can’t do everything all the time. Saying yes to everything is not sustainable, so sometimes, saying no is the best option.