Some years back, Jim Carrey starred in a film called ‘Yes Man,’ where he just said ‘yes’ to everything. This film inspired people to say ‘yes’ to everything in their lives for a week or a day. It was a kind of social experiment and was a popular idea for blogs, magazine articles and newspaper columns. In some cases, this opened up new opportunities, but in others things did not go quite so well – including one journalist who ended up in hospital after saying yes to a particularly fierce gym session! Of course, saying yes to everything is not always such a good idea – but what about the opposite? What about saying ‘no.’ Perhaps not to everything, but there is power in knowing when to say no, which we’ll explore here.
Firstly, saying ‘no’ to everything is not the answer – that would lead to a pretty dull life with plenty of missed opportunities.
It is true that sometimes we need to know when to say yes to new ideas and experiences so we can stretch ourselves and grow as people. New experiences are the spice of life – but this doesn’t mean you should just agree to everything that is asked of you.
If you are the sort of person who feels guilty when they turn down an offer to meet up with friends (when you don’t really feel like it), or find yourself coming up with elaborate excuses for not doing something when all you need to say is ‘I don’t feel like it,’ then you need to learn the power of ‘no.’
Not only will it offer you some control over your life, but knowing when to say no will also allow you to live the life you want to lead – even in your working or college life. Perhaps you are considering a gap year for example, saying ‘no’ to going straight on to more study could open up that for you.
While there are certain things that you may struggle to keep saying no to (such as going to class), just accepting whatever comes your way could equally lead you into problems. For example, just accepting work without letting on that you are already too busy will only cause you stress (which, remember, is bad for your health).
Being able to say that enough is enough, or that you don’t want to do something can also be good for your career.
Hollywood actor, Tom Hanks once explained to an interviewer how he managed to turn his career around and gain better roles, “I realised...that I had to start saying a very, very difficult word to people, which was 'no,'” he began. “Saying yes, then you just work,” Hanks went on, “But saying no means you made the choice of the type of story you wanted to tell and the type of character you want to play."
While you may not (currently) be a Hollywood star, it is still worth understanding the power of saying no from time to time. Apple’s design chief, and Steve Jobs’ ‘spiritual partner,’ Jony Ive revealed how Steve Jobs would ask him, “How many times did you say no today?"
Saying no to the things you don’t want to do allows you to do the things you want. Whether that is your choice of career, what subjects to take at college, or even decisions that can impact a business. Knowing what you want (and what you don’t) is an important skill that you can take with you into your career and everyday life, and is actually part of the most desirable soft skills to have.
Saying no is not always a negative thing, sometimes it is all about deciding what you want to do or be, and declining the other paths. Sometimes, saying no to one thing can actually mean saying yes to something else – something which could see you going after your dreams rather than just trying to please others.