Back to Blog

Setting Boundaries for Success: The Power of Saying “No” (pt. 1 of 2)

Categories: Assertiveness

no-picWe’ve heard all about the power of saying “yes” in growing your career.

Say yes to well-considered risks. Say yes to taking on more responsibility. Say yes to speaking engagements. Say yes to mentoring. Say yes to volunteering. Say yes to joining organizations and serving on boards. Say yes to opportunities of all sorts.

All of this advice makes it sound like "yes" is the magic word which will advance, enhance, and launch your career into the stratosphere. And yes, there is something to that.

I’m reminded of that famous scene in one of my favorite films, "The Devil Wears Prada." The gorgeous Anne Hathaway plays an eager young journalist, who says "yes" to anything she feels might move her forward toward her dream career. And the incredible, indomitable Meryl Streep plays her boss, and editor from hell -- the "devil" who wears Prada.

Ms. Hathaway’s character, Andrea (Andy) Sachs, says "yes" to absolutely everything her ridiculously demanding boss throws at her -- to the point of losing her partner, her friends and her self-respect! One day Ms. Streep’s character, Miranda Priestly, demands that Andy come up with a copy of the new Harry Potter book -—which hasn’t even been released. The threat is obvious: Work a miracle and come up with the manuscript, or be fired.

Of course, if Andy had said "no," it would have been a short movie, and we’re all glad that wasn't the case!

Of course, movies are not real life.

I believe that there must be a balance to everything in life. So it’s time to talk about the opposite of "yes," which is just as important to say at times.

How do you know what to say "no" to? The answer to that question depends on your values, your priorities, and your career goals.

Here are six questions that you can ask yourself, to develop and clarify your priorities. Once they are clear, it will be easier to decide whether it rates a "yes" or a "no."

  1. What do I value most in my life? This is the biggie, and there are no right or wrong answers, so don’t get caught up in what you think you should value. Possible answers could include: family, power, health, spirituality, money, travel, helping others, becoming top in my field, making a lasting mark on the world, etc.
  2. What percentage of my working time is spent on what I really value? This might be an eye-opener, showing you clear areas where you need to start saying "no" or making other changes.
  3. What really needs to be done in this specific instance, and why? You might find you are saying "yes" to all sorts of minor, irrelevant things that are sucking out your time and energy -- simply because you are used to saying "yes."
  4. What am I willing to give up doing (or having) in order to spend more time on what I truly value? This might very well be another eye-opener and path-shifter.
  5. How can I change my career/job/circumstances to be more in line with my values?
  6. What can I delegate or outsource? What doesn’t need to be done now, or even at all? Where can I say that good enough is good enough? After all, there’s rarely a need for perfection.

In other words, where can I say "no?"

Believe it or not, sometimes saying "no" takes a lot more courage, self-awareness and self-respect than saying "yes." I'll discuss this more in my next blog post.

Back to Blog