Saying “NO” At Work Can Save Your Life

Courtesy Image of Unsplash

“Now, at the age of 60, I often think how I began my own career: 31 years in high-pressure jobs for a highly-successful company. I was burned out. But why? It’s tempting to blame my company or the nature of the type of work I chose to do — public relations.

If I’m honest with myself, my burnout was largely self-inflicted.

Not that I was aiming to hurt myself. I had simply convinced myself that “consistently exceeding expectations” was the secret to my success.

I became an iron man, able to take on any assignment, respond promptly to every email message, start my days with conference calls with colleagues in UK and end my days with conference calls with the same colleagues — after they’d had a full night’s sleep. I could do all this while grabbing lunch at my desk and living on coffee. My job demanded it, and getting ahead depended on never saying no.

It worked. Twenty-eight years into my career, I earned my VP stripe. At last, after nearly three decades of running full-tilt, I’d grabbed the brass ring.

At what price?

I was a wreck. I was at least 40 pounds overweight. I had to take blood pressure medication. I worked seven days a week. Most evenings, I missed dinner with my family. I never coached my kids’ sports teams. I grew distant from my friends. I gave up vacation time, and when I went on vacation, I couldn’t unplug.

All the while, the people in my organization were watching me.

It still troubles me to think that many of them no doubt concluded that this is how you get ahead.

But I was worn out. I could not go on. And so, when I had the chance to take early retirement, I did.

Now I’m enjoying an active retirement. I’m healthy and living at my own pace.” –

anonymous manager confession

If you feel guilty and uncomfortable saying no at work, you’re not alone. You may think people will dislike you, think you are entitled or question whether you are a team player. It seems paradoxical, but saying no strategically and respectfully can help your career.

  • It’s okay to make mistakes — nobody is perfect, and everybody does things that they regret; this is what makes us human.
  • What makes a person great is not their looks or achievements, but their willingness to love others, be humble, and grow as a person.
  • You are unique, valuable, and important. No one else in this world can offer what you can.

“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you’re not saying ‘no’ to yourself.”

― Paulo Coelho

Later, I found myself feeling absolutely terrible about having said yes and I wished that I had just had the guts to say no from the beginning.

  • Don’t apologize and give all sorts of reasons.
  • Don’t lie. Lying will most likely lead to guilt — and remember, this is what you are trying to avoid feeling.
  • Remember that it is better to say no now than be resentful later.
  • Be polite, such as “Thanks for asking.”
  • Practice saying no. Imagine a scenario and then practice saying no either by yourself or with a friend. This will get you feeling a lot more comfortable with saying no.
  • Don’t say “I’ll think about it” if you don’t want to do it. This will just prolong the situation and make you feel even more stressed.
  • Remember that your self-worth does not depend on how much you do for other people.

Writer, Author, Psychologist, Career Coach