Why ‘No’ Should be Part of our Vocabulary

I am a people-pleaser and overachiever. I have always been this way and until recently haven’t been able to say “no.” For so long I wanted to be that person who could easily put her foot down and never think about it again.

In today’s world, there are so many different directions one person can be pulled, and I feel as though for women, especially those who are relatively new in our careers, that word is even harder. You want to be everything to everyone but, in reality, that is not possible, especially without something (or someone) else suffering.  

Over the past few months I have truly realized the importance of saying “no.” And I am no longer afraid to do so. A big part of this change comes from two important factors: my attitude towards saying “no” has changed and the way in which I say it is different.  

At first, I thought saying “no” showed in some way that I was mean-spirited. After all, dissenting women are often the very first to be criticized as being difficult, combative and assertive. There is a crazy expectation on us to be portrayed as a “sweetheart” who is full of good and helpful to those with whom we come in contact. As such, we fall into a vicious cycle of saying “yes” to everything and everyone and it becomes second nature to simply say “yes.”  

However, now I have realized that saying “no” means that you are determined, focused and strong. In fact, you are demonstrating to others that you are not someone who can be easily taken advantage of. And you are protecting the time you need to take care of what is truly important.

Another change has come in the way I say “no.” In the past, I would expend so much energy concocting long, drawn out stories to prove in some way that declining the offer was warranted. I would get tangled in a web of white lies and it became incredibly stressful to keep up with the half-truth. “I would love to help out but I am just very busy” should suffice. If someone respects you enough, he or she will get the message that you are busy and eventually leave you alone. If someone keeps pressing you, stick to your guns and don’t budge; the person will move along.

If you are feeling similar—uneasy with saying “no” and what that could do to your reputation—recognize that saying “no” gets easier with practice. As time goes on, you won’t have to rehearse as much or as often the lines will simply roll off your tongue. As a result, you will have more time to focus on the important things and people in your life. Over these past few months I have truly felt as though a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

Steve Jobs said it best: “Focus is about saying no.”

Teresa Florindi is a full time Social Studies teacher in Port Chester, NY. When she is not instilling her passion about American History to her 7th graders, she enjoys traveling with her fiancé. She also spends her spare time teaching group exercise and indoor cycling at her local YMCA.