Yes, You’re Allowed to Say No

May 10, 2016

A few days ago, I did something sort of crazy and out of character for me. No, I didn’t skydive or complete a half marathon. What did I do? I said NO.

No to a potential client who was interested in working with me. No to increasing my income. No to expanding my experience and reach with this new project. Just, no.

What surprised me about uttering that simple two-letter word was how I ended up feeling about it. To put it simply, I was overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. Who was I to turn these people down? They had invested time and resources to talk with me about the work they needed. Why had I wasted their time? How could I walk away, when they were already apparently counting on me?

I shared these thoughts with some of the people around me, and they quickly pointed out how stupid I was being (in much nicer words, of course). Yes, this potential client had invested time and resources to find out more about me—but hadn’t I done the exact same thing to learn more about them?

Why was I so uneasy about cheating them out of our collaboration, but more than willing to cheat myself—by committing to something that I knew I didn’t really want to do?

As freelancers, as professionals—heck, as people—it’s all too easy to be conditioned to think that saying no is a bad thing. By not responding to every new opportunity with a hearty, resounding, “Yes!” you’re assumed to be all sorts of things. You’re selfish. You’re misleading. You’re closed-minded. You’re stuck in your comfort zone. You’re unwilling to branch out. You’re set in your ways. You’re all kinds of negative things—simply because you recognized that something wasn’t a good fit for you and had the gall to speak up about it.

But, believe me, saying no—even to those opportunities that other people tell you you’re crazy for leaving behind—doesn’t make you any of those above adjectives. It makes you self-aware and smart.

I think there will always be a certain sense of guilt involved with saying no. And, unfortunately, there’s not a lot I can do about that.

However, the next time you want to turn around and walk away from something you’re not interested in, take a deep breath and go right ahead—even if it feels totally counterintuitive and wrong. Don’t worry, I’ll be paddling that boat with you.

Until next time!