In defense of saying no

Saying yes is held in high esteem. Books, articles and blogs have been written about the opportunities afforded someone, if they just let go and say yes to every opportunity brought to them. You’re a team player, you’re up for anything. You’re a go-getter, up for a challenge. You take risks, find opportunities, gain skills. And certainly new experiences must abound when people say yes. Requests may become opportunities that otherwise would not have been met. But there must be something too, in saying no.

Books and articles and blogs too have been written about saying no – but it’s mostly about building the “no” skill and how to say no most nicely. There isn’t much out there about the benefits of “no” as a personal goal. If I said no, once in a while or perhaps as a rule, would I gain anything? I may gain time, I would certainly gain some sanity, but would I be losing out, in the end? Would I regret missed opportunities or projects that could have been? Would my peaceful, stress-free time with baby be something I wish I had crammed with tasks and projects?

If I say no, will I be missing out on being a part of something bigger? Would I be forgotten, dejected? Would I be able to be a part of something smaller? Is something smaller - my home, my family - less relevant or valuable? If I say no, and intentionally devote my time to something “smaller” will I regret it?
If I said no, I could be home with my baby, cultivating calm in our lives. I could be living in moments rather than rushing off to naps so I could get on with other obligations. I could nurse without composing emails in my head.

Perhaps saying no would open space up in my life for my interests instead of what I was most effectively solicited for.

No one is getting book deals espousing the benefits of saying no, but I think the benefits are there, especially to new moms who are still adjusting to motherhood, trying to keep a foot in the working world and one at home with baby. We want to prove we can do it all, so we say yes when you ask us to chair your upcoming auction, we volunteer when no one else raises their hand in a meeting, and we begrudgingly accept being “volunteered” for projects.

I will try to say no more. I don’t know if I’m able to commit to a year of saying no (I like the idea…), but I will commit to not commit. I will not take on more than I really truly want to. I will say no when saying yes means losing something I don’t want to see lost. I might even say no, or sit on my hand in that meeting, just for the challenge.

Someone else is going to have to say yes. Good things come from saying yes. There’s a whole book about it.

I am defending not accepting every opportunity, keeping my hand down, saying no. Good things can come from saying no.


  1. I am the Queen of No. It is a nice country to inhabit, No Land. This is how it works. You choose what you want, when you want it. Even if that means choosing nothing (as in: silence). Nothing is a choice too. Here is the script:

    Person Who Wants Something From You: Hello! Will you chair the new committee on saving ladybugs from certain death?
    You, the newly-appointed Ambassador of No: No. I will let you know if that changes.

    See how easy that was? Two letters. One syllable. My favorite part is they can't even keep pestering you because you clearly said, "I will let you know if that changes." You have all the power and all the control (this is actually a pretty good dating strategy, and parenting strategy come to think of it).

    No. No no no no no no NO! Powerful. And then when you say "yes"? They know you really mean it.


  2. Yes! And not just good for volunteer requests, either. Invitations to parties and shopping dates at the dreaded mall of doom get a "no" too. I think I'll like it here.


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