As the middle child of 5, I perfectly fit the stereotype: eager to please, anxious to keep everyone happy– and an over-achiever to boot!
And, as the daughter of another middle child yes-sayer, I’m more than aware of how this behavior makes you feel in the long-term: overextended, tired, and with little time to consider what kinds of things you actually want at the top of your priority list.
When I first graduated from college, yes-ing was a must, and it helped me gather a lot of valuable experiences. If someone needed a person who would work on their performance project with late nights and long hours (and little pay), I was their gal. I combined teaching dance in the ‘burbs with working full-time at a restaurant, making my own choreography, and dancing in other people’s work. Understandably, I was a little tired, but I had youth and enthusiasm on my side.
Fast-forward eight years later, and I made a magical realization: I don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything anymore. And, when I’m overwhelmed from too much yes-ing, I have no one to blame but myself. Further more, saying yes to everything prevents me from being great at anything. Half-assing six things feels awful. Why not pick the one you really like and do it well?
It turns out that saying ‘no’ (or negotiating better hours- or better pay) is totally doable and totally awesome. It turns out that no one is going to shake their finger at you for turning them down. And, usually people have mad respect for your boundary setting and personal standards.
So, when I recently was offered a project that I wanted to take- but which required more hours than I was comfortable with- I had a serious sit-down. I got quiet and I did some channeling of my hippie upbringing. I took some time to visualize what I want my day-to-day life to look like (if I could have it any way I like)- right now. I got REALLY specific and REALLY honest with myself. It helped me figure out what terms I needed to ask for.
When I interviewed her, Jen Scott said that there are 3 reasons to do something: you like it, it pays well, or it gets you where you want to go. I couldn’t agree more. The key thing for me has been re-evaluating where I want to go. And then, honestly asking, is this experience going to help me get there? Here’s the tricky thing: you can’t have ALL THE THINGS at once. And, you can’t be good at ALL THE THINGS (unless you’re a superhero). You are a limited resource!
And, when denying others gets tricky, you can use my friend Ashley’s method. In England, they use the phrase ‘I couldn’t possibly’. She taught this to me when I lived with her, and it works like a charm. When you say ‘I couldn’t possibly’, no one even knows what to say. It’s non-negotiable: You. Can’t. Do it.
So, go say ‘no’. And then start get excited for all of the ‘yes’ things you chose to make space for.