The word no never used to be in my vocabulary. For years I said yes to everything. Yes to that dinner out, sure to that event, why not to helping someone around the office with a 'fun' project. The more I said 'yes,' the more my to-do list grew and grew. The more that list grew, the more burnt out I became until one day I had to step back and take a breather. Why was I pushing myself so hard?
Learning to say 'no' to people was a tough lesson to learn. As women, we are taught from a young age to share, not to be 'bossy' (a word I HATE) and to always be appeasing. Saying yes is ingrained into us from a young age. While times are finally changing, learning to turn down opportunities has been a constant struggle for me. I don't want to come off as unfriendly, difficult or god forbid bossy! There is a certain point however that you need to start looking out for number one. This is why I began formalizing a set of criteria for myself to decide what I say yes or no to. While items don't have to check off all five boxes, I try to hit at least three before I commit to something. Here is what worked for me:
1. Will this help my career or personal growth?
Growth whether personal or professional is essential. To succeed you need to grow, learn new skills and bring those back home. When I'm looking at an opportunity, I ask myself what I will learn? Am I going to grow my skills to level up? Am I gaining something from this? For years I'd volunteer to do things out of the kindness of my heart. I'd work for free to help someone else achieve their goals without thinking of what my goals were. Now when I begin working on something I ask myself and them: what am I getting out of this relationship. I believe it's important to be upfront about what you want and need out of a project. Get everyone aligned and ensure that you are on the same page. That way at the end of the day you can evaluate if something makes sense for you at that time.
2. What is the time commitment - do I have it?
Time is precious. You only have so many free hours in the day to accomplish everything. When looking at a new opportunity, it is vital to ask yourself: do I have time for this? While everyone dreams of being a super-person and taking on the world, having the time and energy to do everything is impossible. I like to break down my time commitments and figure out if I can either do it thoroughly, offer some help or not commit at all. For example, recently I wanted to work on a project. When it came down to it, I realized this project was going to suck up at least 12 hours a week. I thought hard about this and realized it was just not the right time. I did, however, agree to be an on-call resource where they could call me when need be to bounce ideas off of or ask questions. I knew what could work for me and worked within my limits.
3. Does this help my community or ecosystem?
This is a personal one for me. Given that I've created a career around community and culture, giving back to these elements is crucial to me. These might not be what is important to you. Find what your key motivators are and fill in the blanks.
4. Who am I getting into bed with?
Everyone has that story where they began a project that was going to be remarkable only to end up feeling used or getting into bed with the wrong people. Before I go in deep with an organization, I like to do a bit of background snooping. Don't be afraid to look up someone on LinkedIn, find your common friends and ask them about the person. Trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right then, it might not be. When in doubt I ask the person. Ninety percent of the time it's a misunderstanding, however better to know from day one what you are getting yourself into.
5. Will I regret not doing this in five years?
FOMO is real, but FOMO fades! The true test of time is will I regret not doing something? This test for me is usually more useful when it comes to larger items such as working on a project or a career change. Will I regret saying no? There is also the flip side to consider: will I regret saying yes? Truly think long-term and figure out what you want for yourself. Five years seems far off, but one little change can make a world of difference.
Saying no will probably never come easily to me. Deep down I want to jump at the opportunity to do everything. This is unrealistic. Now, I take my time with decisions. I don't jump at opportunities and check in with myself before saying yes. Your time and energy are not infinite resources. You must treat them as such.