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It’s really hard to say no.

But sometimes it’s the kindest thing you can do. For others, and for yourself.

When you have big goals and you’re working toward building an extraordinary life, you can’t say yes to everything without burning yourself out.

I still struggle with this one, I admit. If someone asks me for help, I want to say yes–even if, realistically, I just don’t have time or can’t help them without derailing myself.

Why is it kinder to say no? Here’s an example.

I once ruined a friendship because I always felt the need to say yes to everything.

A friend was getting married on the same day I was moving in with my boyfriend at the time. Our move date was set before my friend’s wedding, and I couldn’t change it. But I said yes to attending her wedding, because how could I not? She was a good friend.

The day of our move and her wedding came. I was exhausted. My boyfriend was exhausted. We couldn’t find our fancy clothes, or most of our other belongings, for that matter–they were packed away like everything else. Where was the ironing board, or the iron? Who knew?

The last thing we felt like was dressing up and attending a wedding. We were bruised, battered, and sleep-deprived. Finally, my boyfriend suggested a compromise. Why didn’t we go to the ceremony? We could pull ourselves together as much as possible, go to the ceremony, see my friend get married, and then come home and collapse. We’d miss the reception, but at least we’d be there to see her say “I do”.

I still felt guilty about it, but agreed. We managed to find some presentable clothing, and stood in the back of the group. It was a beautiful ceremony. I tried to catch my friend’s eye afterward, so she’d know I was there, but I wasn’t sure that she’d seen me. When we got home, I forced myself to at least set up my computer so I could send her an email of apology. I told her how beautiful her wedding was, and how happy I was for her. Then I collapsed into bed, hoping she’d forgive me.

Well, she didn’t. She was furious with me for missing her reception, and–as any bride knows–someone who sends in an RSVP to a wedding and then doesn’t show up is a huge PITA, and an expensive one, because the happy couple has already paid for your meal. In her email, she also called me on the fact that I’d blown off other invitations–to parties, etc.–and she was tired of it. And that’s when I realized–I had a problem with saying no.

Of course I couldn’t move my entire household and attend a wedding on the same day! What was I thinking? Something had to give, but because I felt pressured to say yes to everything–the move date, the wedding, my boyfriend who didn’t have the energy to go to the reception–I ended up destroying a friendship. It would have been kinder to explain to my friend in advance that I wouldn’t be able to make it, and somehow find a way to compensate for my absence (perhaps with a really nice gift). By trying to make everyone happy, I made no one happy, least of all myself.

Do you have a problem with saying no? Have you managed to learn how to set limits? If so, please tell me how you do it. Lord knows I need all the help I can get.

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  1. Frank Powers

    I had this same conversation with a friend of mine this last week. She is a pleaser and thinks saying no is the same as being mean. I’ve tried explaining that no may be disappointing but unless you’re saying no specifically to be mean, it’s not mean.

    Sometimes no is the nicest answer you can give.

    • Holli Moncrieff

      I agree, Frank. I’ve had people wait around for an answer from me for weeks, when it would have been nicer to tell them no right off so they could get someone else to help them.

      I think that, as a writer, there’s an expectation and a willingness to want to help others, as we’ve been helped ourselves along the way. It’s difficult to know where to draw the line.

      I feel for your friend.

  2. Chrys Fey

    I do have a problem with not saying no and for it I’ve been taken advantage of. Saying yes to others has also interrupted my life because I always try to help others before myself. I need to learn to say no more often.

    • Holli Moncrieff

      It’s really challenging, isn’t it? As writers, we’re so grateful for the help we’ve been given by those who’ve gone before us that we want to pay it forward.

      But obviously a line has to be drawn. If we helped everyone who asked, there wouldn’t be any time to get our own work done. The question is, where to draw the line? I struggle with that too.

  3. Michelle Wallace

    People take kindness as weakness, and then take advantage of your generous nature.
    So I’ve learned to say no… but it took me a long, long time to get to this point – and this included getting rid of that sense of guilt that you feel when you say no.
    Writer In Transit

    • Holli Moncrieff

      That’s such a sad statement about our society, but I think it’s probably true a lot of the time. This is why kind people end up becoming bitter and hardened.

      I can’t imagine not feeling guilty about saying no! I hope I get to that point someday.

  4. Lisa

    The more often you say no the easier it gets…I don’t feel bad for saying no anymore…and I also don’t get mad if someone says no to me…

  5. Rhonda Parrish

    Dude, I suck at saying no… but I’m getting better. Except when it comes to telling myself no. That, I still blow at.

    • Holli Moncrieff

      I’m the other way around. I’m getting better at saying no to me…to friends, not so much.

  6. Donna B. McNicol

    It took me many years to figure that out…much better for your personal mental, emotional and physical health. If you never say no, you’re not being fair to you OR the people requesting your time.

    Donna B. McNicol
    A to Z Participant

    • Holli Moncrieff

      I completely agree, Donna. Sad to say I lost more than one friend before I finally came to that conclusion, and I still suck at it sometimes.

  7. Tui Snider

    I’ve gotten better at saying no over the years, but I still have lapses. I appreciate the story you shared, and can certainly relate.

    For me, the big wake up call has been physical. I’ve driven myself into extreme states of fatigue before, and I still can if I’m not careful.

    It was in one of these bouts of fatigue that I suddenly realized that even the Energizer Bunny had batteries, and even the best batteries need to be recharged!

    Silly image, but it helps me combat that tendency in myself to take on too much when I’m feeling charged up.

    ~Tui Snider~ I’m dropping by from today’s #AZchat on Twitter!
    @TuiSnider on Twitter
    My blog: Tui Snider’s Offbeat & Overlooked Travel
    I am also part of the #StoryDam team, a friendly writing community!

    • Holli Moncrieff

      I do the same thing. My work life is an endless cycle of psychotic-level productivity and burnout. I’m trying to get better at saying no. I was just asked to participate in a focus group, and at first I said “well, maybe…” before I realized I was doing it again!


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