Learn To Say No

Making good choices with your time is key to having a successful life. It is also a critical element in navigating the path to leadership. It’s easy to say yes, especially in our get-it-done-now culture. It feels successful somehow to say yes. It feels a little like failure to say no, doesn’t it? And yet, if we don’t summon up the courage to say no, we will never have the energy for the really important things we should be saying yes to.

Let’s face it: There are only so many hours in a day, and staying focused on your priorities is essential. I write this as if I have always known this was true. But, there was a time in my life when I didn’t believe it.

My Early Years of Saying Yes to Everything

In writing this article, I got to reflect on how saying “yes” too often raised “red flags” health wise in my early life. In the 9th grade, I spent a day and night in the hospital. The root cause? Sheer exhaustion. I was a straight A student, spread way too thin with a host of responsibilities in extra-curricular activities, and at times, a part-time job. I was my family’s “trophy child” and I felt huge responsibility to make my parents proud. They never encouraged to me to slow-down and say “no.” Even a hospital stay didn’t do it. The event was chalked up as a one-time, medical fluke. It was back-to- business as usual.

Fast forward to graduate school. Amidst a demanding course load and study schedule coupled with a campus job that paid my tuition, I visited the on-campus infirmary for extreme fatigue. The on-duty doctor stopped me in my tracks with some prophetic advice:

“You, young lady, are an over-achiever and the world loves to get its hooks into people like you. They’ll suck you dry if you let them. You’ll need to set firm boundaries on self-care. Otherwise, you’ll suffer severe consequences.”

How did I fare with his advice? Not too well. After completing graduate school, I worked exhaustively for eight years getting promotion after promotion. Self care was no where in sight. Then, my body said “no more” and I suffered a debilitating burn out that took two years of recovery.

How I say “No” and “Yes” Today

Whenever someone requests my time, I endeavor to be humble and kind with my answer.

Here’s a few guidelines I practice to make the most of my time:

· My purpose and passion in life is to increase diversity in corporate boardrooms and to help women climb in their careers. When I get professional requests, I filter them through those two purposes.

· It’s a true privilege to serve on the Luby’s/Fuddruckers board. I invest time preparing and participating in that service.

· I love the city of Austin and make time to help my beloved city grow and improve.

· “Refilling my tank” is a priority. I make sure my calendar gives me opportunity to do that. Part of refilling my tank is quiet time to think and ponder.

· I make time for people in my life who “get me” and help me be a better person, and who, in turn, I can help. Many have been on my life and career journey from the beginning.

· I make room for new friends when they meet the above criteria.

These guidelines serve me well, and they have made me even more productive. I have much more energy today than I had in my thirties. I work out, I do yoga, I spend quality time with the people I love.

By learning to say no, I have become more productive, rather than less. In fact, I feel like I am currently in the most productive time of my life. I have authored four books and will publish my fifth, Women Make Great Leaders: Real-World Lessons to Accelerate Your Climb in May of 2017.

In authoring my books, I have learned the value of saying no. Writing “flow” comes from concentrated, uninterrupted time to write. I carefully guard my calendar and the people closest to me understand

Take Time to Feed Your Soul

One of my favorite books is Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph,D. My tattered copy is full of underlines and notes in the margins. Estes observes that the vitality of a woman’s soul is maintained by finding her calling and then “doing the work.”

She counsels, never let anyone or anything rob you of the time that is required to feed your female soul. Amen.


Know your “no,” and know your “yes.”

It takes courage to say no. If you tend to be a “people pleaser” this will be especially hard.

Endeavor to say no to the request, but not to the person. Always leave that person feeling appreciated.

If you’ve generally said “yes” and you are now saying “no” expect push back. We train people how to treat us, and re-training them can be difficult. Seek out a good counselor for support if the going gets tough.

Be preemptive with your no. If often helps to say up front you are “heads down” on a project at the moment. That can often dissuade someone from even asking.

Be prepared to miss out. Remind yourself that when you’re saying no to the request, you are simultaneously saying yes to something you value more than the request. Both are opportunities. You’re just choosing one over the other.

Gather your courage. If you’re someone who is used to saying yes, it will take courage to say no, especially if the person asking doesn’t give up easily. [This] is the cost of reclaiming your life. Be courageous in owning your time.

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