Learning How to Say No (After Years and Years of Yes)

Career Advice

A little over a month ago, I had the opportunity to be on Hamza Khan’s Ideas Into Action podcast and he pointed something out to me that I hadn’t quite recognized in myself. He told me that I embodied one of his favourite mottos:

“Say yes to everything until you absolutely can’t.”

It’s true. I always say yes. To ev-ery-thing. I was leaning in before leaning in was a thing. And it served me well. A lot of the most important connections I’ve made in my career often started with a simple email and ended with that powerful three-letter word.

“Could you edit our publication?” “Yes.”

“Do you have time to chat? “Yes.”

“Is this [insert project or service here] in your wheelhouse?” “Yes!”

I’ve rarely turned down opportunities that come my way because I’ve seen time and time again how little things can turn into bigger things. A one-off blogging assignment can turn into a regular writing gig. That random person you DM on Facebook could turn into a good friend and mentor. I’ve faked it ‘till I made it and googled my way through a variety of different assignments that were way out of my comfort zone at the time.

The result?

All smiles after a panel talk at WoodGreen Community Services.

Well today, I can boast that I’ve written for amazing brands like Spotify and Patreon. I’ve been featured on podcasts and spoken on panels. And of course, I started this business. But seven years ago, I was writing recaps of shows like Degrassi amd Snooki and JWOWW and writing feature-length stories for zero dollars while working at Old Navy so I could afford to write for free. This was unfortunately back when ‘unpaid internships’ were still accepted and even encouraged.

Now I’m definitely not saying you should work for free. Please, please don’t do that. All I’m saying is that we all have to start somewhere. The opportunities I have today did not just fall into my lap. They came after years and years of years of saying yes to whatever came my way, and steadily leveraging the work I did and the connections I made into bigger and better opportunities.

But saying yes to everything can be a double-edged sword because there comes a point where you do have to say ‘no.’

My motto should have been, “say yes to everything until you absolutely can’t.” In reality, it was more like, “say yes to everything and figure out how to make it all work later.”

Now that I’m self-employed, I quickly learned that this way of thinking is not sustainable. At all. You only have so many hours in a day to work and take care of yourself and you shouldn’t sacrifice the latter to make more room for the former. But that’s what I’ve been doing.

Originally, I was going to write something along the lines of how saying yes can transform your freelance business and how you just need to grab life by the horns you #girlboss you! But of course, it’s not that simple.

Yes, you should be open to new opportunities. Even the ones that may seem too daunting or maybe even beneath you at the time. However, you also need to be discerning and listen to your gut, as one of my good friends always says.

So how did I learn how to say no? In a few small and simple ways:

Jasmine Williams Media How to Say No
  • I’ve created parameters around responding to emails and inquiries, to protect my own time and mental health.  
  • I’m slowly learning how to be more honest with myself and my clients on how much I can handle.
  • And lastly, by adopting a new motto – “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.”

I used to have a lot of FOMO around saying no.

“What if they get mad at me?”

“What if this opportunity could lead to something better?”

But now, I don’t see no as such a negative word. By learning how to say no, I’m creating space. Space for better clients and projects and space for me to take better care of myself.