The lights came up on the stage, and I was about to make my entrance before the audience as a producer ran up behind me and tugged at my sleeve.
“Just one more thing,” she whispered loudly.
“Um, sure….” I said, anxious to get started and keep my schedule on track.
“After you give your speech, would you mind sitting down with our executive team for a couple of hours and educating them on how you managed to scale your business into online programs? They’re thinking of getting into e-learning, too.” The look on her face, and the tone of her voice, made it clear that she didn’t think she was asking me for all that much.
I wanted to be agreeable, but her request struck a chord with me…and not in a good way. I try to be self-honoring when it comes to my time and my practice. Not only was she putting me on the spot, but also she was expecting me to give away for free what my clients pay me for.
Despite all of this, a part of me wanted to say yes for the sake of being easy-going and willing…but I didn’t.
“I’m sorry,” I told her, watching her expression change from friendly to stunned, “but I can’t do that.” It was tough knowing that she was probably forming all sorts of opinions about me, but I’ve done enough personal development work to not take it personally.
While I live my life now in the zone of either “hell yes” or “hell no,” it wasn’t always this way.
Saying yes to others can have a powerful impact on your career, your reputation, your professional growth – but saying no – especially when it’s uncomfortable to do so – is one of the most powerful steps you can take in your personal growth.
Here are some thoughts to consider.
1. You’re responsible for creating your boundaries. Here’s a reality check: boundaries are created—they don’t come baked into your relationships. If you’re constantly finding yourself in uncomfortable situations with people who want you to give more and more of yourself, it’s likely because you aren’t taking responsibility for creating boundaries. What’s stopping you from saying “no”? From saying “enough”? Is it fear? Are you trying to please others? If so, ask yourself: is this a pattern in your life? Is it serving you to keep it in place?
2. You’re not responsible for anyone else’s reaction. Oftentimes, people say “yes” for fear of disappointing or hurting someone else… Sound familiar? This fear often comes from an intense desire to be liked, and it’s incredibly damaging when you lead with it in the workplace. This is partly because you’re focusing too much on keeping others happy and not enough on achieving results. After all, pleasing everyone around you takes a ton of time! Think about it: how much time do you spend pleasing other people and regretting your yesses? It’s better to be uncomfortable than it is to be resentful, so knowing what this discomfort brings up in you is huge feedback for your own personal growth. This awareness will allow you to make a more conscious choice on how you show up in your authenticity.
3. Successful people know how to say “no.” This is something they’ve had to teach themselves, because they too struggled with the “no” word at some point in time. But with science showing us that “no” improves productivity and mental health, none of us can afford to keep saying “yes.” In the words of Warren Buffet, “the difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.” I’m not saying that you need to say “no” to almost everything, but I am saying that your success rides on your ability to honor your truth. Furthermore, successful people don’t need to come up with excuses to soften the blow of the “no,” they just say they’re not able to, point blank.
The people-pleasing aspect of my ego hated saying “no” to that producer, but the part of me that recognizes the importance of breaking that habit was much stronger because of it.
Each time you say “no” to something that you would have said “yes” to in the past, you are strengthening your muscle to create boundaries and making it easier to say “no” in the future.
The next time you feel caught between wanting to make someone else happy and wanting to make yourself happy, just remember: Saying no to whatever they are asking of you is just another way of saying yes to what you truly want to commit yourself to.
This article first appeared in Forbes.