The word "no" feels so final, definite, and abrupt. A word that I personally have found hard to use. There's definitely a fear when you start saying "no" you get passed up for opportunities, people will stop asking you, and you'll find yourself bored or lonely.
You become the "yes" person. This person is the one who can always be counted on, the one who gets asked first to join every committee, lead every project because everyone knows you'll say yes. You may not have time in your day or your schedule at large, but you simply can't let people down. You're probably the type of person who is always running, people always ask "how do you do it all?", sleep is a distant memory, and somehow you manage to get it all done.
However, how happy are you? What are you sacrificing? What are you gaining?
Let's be honest, being approached for different projects and opportunities feels good, it's great to feel success, and be needed. However, sometimes it all gets too much and you have to start being selective. This is a practice I have recently been getting into, I'm learning how to say no, without burning bridges or closing doors.
In the last six months, I have directed two shows, run a business, brought on new students, spoke publicly, participated in family events, and still kept up with my day to day obligations. I found I am pretty much at my capacity, there is no more I can feasibly take on at this time. When I have been approached with other opportunities I started going through a series of questions, while providing alternate solutions.....some of which were declined, but a solution was provided none-the-less.
Here's what I started doing when time is simply not an option anymore:
1. Redefine the meaning of the word "no"
What is your reasoning for not wanting or being able to do something? If it's time, look at your schedule, is there a time in the future you can participate? If so, offer that as an option, if you get turned down, at least the other party knows you were interested and you didn't completely shut something down. They can keep your name in mind, and contact you when another opportunity arises.
If you're absolutely not interested, it doesn't align with your goals or interests, a polite explanation will do. A simple, "thank you for thinking of me, but this doesn't align with my current goals, strengths, or interests at this time." This way you're appreciative of the offer, but expressing that this is not a good fit for you.
Either way, people appreciate an answer and not just a blow off.....pretending not to see their calls, texts, emails.
2. Understand your priorities
It's super important to understand what your personal and professional priorities are. I am a huge fan of lists, so if you need to list them out, do so. It's actually a great reminder and way to organize your thoughts. If you're going to accept a project or opportunity it should align with your priorities and goals. If it doesn't help to advance your career or personal life, you need to decide if it's worth investing your time and energy in.
You also need to understand what current obligations are already taking your time. These need to continue to be fulfilled. Can you take on something new and still complete your obligations at the same level of quality you have been providing? This is important, your reputation will be determined based on the quality of work you produce. No one wants to hear how busy you are, everyone's busy, they want to know that you can fulfill your obligations and that they are a priority for you.
3. Understand the expectations
Don't be afraid to ask questions. How much time do you expect me to be there? What is the workload? What is the commute time? If there is pay involved, what does compensation look like? These are all questions that need to be answered to be able to give a definite answer.
I was offered an opportunity to create a choir program for a school, however, they expected me to be there five days a week, between set hours. Between the drive time, the compensation, and the hours worked I would have to give up some of my students and scale back my business. This was something I was absolutely not willing to do. I offered to create a hybrid virtual program, to which I never received a response. This clearly wasn't a good fit, however, I took the time to hear the individual out, understood what was needed, and explained how the current paradigm would not fit into my goals and business plan. The sacrifice I would have had to make was way higher than the return. It was a definite no go.
4. Set a schedule
I live and die by my schedule, I have to. Everything is on Google Calendar, so I know each week what private lessons I have, group classes are running, rehearsals are planned, and personal events are going on. This way I know what to plan for in advance so that my students get the best quality from me, I'm where I need to be at a particular day and time, and I don't double book.
I love the fact that I can access my calendar from my computer or phone, so if I'm out and get offered an opportunity (this has happened), I can say yes or no, by checking my calendar. If it requires more depth and thinking, I will ask if I can get back to the individual after reviewing the next few months and make sure I can fit it all in.
I am huge proponent of respecting people's time. Everyone is busy, I don't like my time wasted, and I know they don't theirs wasted either. I always like to keep that in mind when dealing with anyone.
5. When in doubt ask yourself the following questions
If you can say yes to 90% of the questions, it's a good opportunity, it not, say no.
1. Is this something I'm interested in?
2. Will I be able to give 100% to this project?
3. Will this help to advance my career or personal life?
4. Will I meet new people or grow stronger relationships?
5. Is this fun?
Just by making a few new changes I have noticed how much easier it is to prioritize what I really want and be able to go after opportunities I'm really interested in. Balance is a constant struggle, but remember to not overload your plate. Life is short, it should be fun! If you become all work and no play, it's time to make some changes, and start cutting things that don't make your feet hit that floor with excitement every morning.