Here’s What Happened When I Gave Myself Permission to Say “No”

It’s okay to say no.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Why do I keep saying “Yes!” to things when I know that overloading my plate never turns out well?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot recently.

Take last year for example: Between my full-time position and two part-time gigs, I spent around 85 hours working and commuting each week. It was a lot, but I made it work. But when I started my current position — one I felt very passionate about and wanted to excel in — I said farewell to my side gigs so I could put my all into it.

It was a good decision. I hadn’t realized that I’d been drowning until I finally came up for air. I spent the next couple months catching my breath and slowing down.

Then, in typical Abby fashion, as soon as I felt good about my work-life balance, I started the cycle all over again. And just like that, I was in over my head again and I didn’t know why.

Sure, the additional money was nice. But that wasn’t the root of it because I’m not a person who’s solely motivated by dollar signs. What I am, however, is a person who’s driven by the fear of failure, the anxiety of not accomplishing enough, and the discomfort with how quickly time goes by.

Underneath all the other noise in my head, a voice kept murmuring, if you say “No” to this opportunity, you’re saying no to ever going anywhere.

That daunting thought (paired with the curse of needing immediate gratification), caused me to believe that I had to say yes to everything or stagnate in my career.

But then I had a revelation.

Going to work every day and doing my job well is progress in itself. Sure, I won’t receive accolades simply because I show up every day, but that doesn’t mean my career’s at a standstill — that my boss isn’t impressed with my work, that I’m never going to get promoted, or get another job, or have something to humblebrag to my friends about.

Every day, I’m learning new skills, increasing my knowledge base, and gaining extensive management experience. Not to mention, I’m growing as a health educator, a higher education professional, and a human being. And that all counts toward “going somewhere in my career.”

So, I made a promise to myself: I’d start saying “no” more often to offers or requests that didn’t excite me (with the exception, of course, of things I had to do — you know, the things that are phrased as requests but really aren’t). Instead, I’d use that time to do things I wanted to do.

And here’s the cool thing I’ve learned about saying “No:” It doesn’t have to mean “never ever.” It can also mean “not right now.”

For example, when I informed one of my side gig bosses that I would no longer be able to work with him, I asked him to keep me on his freelancer list so I could reach out if things calmed down (or I truly missed the work).

And sure, we can’t live our lives saving every opportunity for later. But that doesn’t mean we need to fit it all in today.

By making this small change in my life, I went from always being focused on what needed to be done next — even when I was participating in leisurely activities — and instead felt much more capable of being in the moment, of providing others (and myself) with the attention they deserve.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not 100% stress free. (Is that even attainable?) And the urge to seek out new opportunities didn’t completely disappear. I’m not a magician. Every few days, when I have some time to myself, I start wondering what I could be doing to move forward. But I’ve worked hard to not give into my restlessness. And I think it’s paying off.

So if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, give yourself a break. Step back. Slow down. Say no. And hey, if that makes you uncomfortable, just say “not right now.”

Originally published at on March 2, 2017.

Originally published at

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