Just Say No

Conflicting Emotions
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It’s two letters, one syllable.

Why is it so hard to say?

Because we have conflicting needs and desires.

I recently turned down three offers to speak to audiences about my new book.

One would have had 3,000 people on-line; another 30 people in a room a 45-minute drive from my home and the third maybe 60 people in another country. None of these people thought it odd, or rude, to ask that I speak without any compensation or any guarantee of book sales. Just “exposure.”

Of course I want to sell lots and lots of my books. I want and need to meet new readers. But with gas at $4 a gallon and my time billable at $150-200 hour, being asked to just give it away really annoys me.

Why exactly am I expected to donate my time, energy and skills?

So now I don’t.

It feels really good to finally start saying no. (It doesn’t have to be rude or have any affect at all. It is, as they say, a complete sentence.)

We’re all trained in the art of nay — or yay — saying. I grew up in a family of people who were/are extremely determined to get their way. People who consider me stubborn and hard-headed, who’ve also met my family of origin, get it.

There was little negotiation, often their way or the highway. So “no” became a fairly useless response, if I wanted to have a family at all.

The first man I married won my heart through his unblinking ability, on Christmas Eve after a toxic little maternal encounter, to say “No” to the whole thing. We left. I would never had mustered up the nerve to tell her enough! Thank heaven he did.

Women are heavily socialized from childhood to make nice, keep everyone happy, givegivegivegivegive (in), no matter our true, private feelings on the matter. The woman who dares to be the first to buck that trend, to ask for a raise, refuse to make team snacks or host Thanksgiving is often vilified for being so….demanding!

One of my favorite books is “Women Don’t Ask”, which explores this issue in detail.

It can take years, decades, even a lifetime to locate your spine and keep it as stiff as rebar when needed. Saying no, despite the conflict, anger, frustration and recrimination it can create, (and, oh, it does!) is a powerful choice if all you’ve been saying — reluctantly, resentfully — is yes. (Sigh.)

So much easier to avoid conflict by caving, keeping everyone else happy, wondering when you might finally muster up the nerve to say NO and mean it.

What have you begun saying no to?

How does that feel?

27 thoughts on “Just Say No

  1. Amen. The number of work I’ve been asked to do for free (for exposure! to meet new directors! to get the name out!) astounds me; I made a point three years ago not to give those offers the time of day (politely, of course). It was frightening to start having “standards,” and insisting that my skills and time were worth compensation. I don’t do theater pro bono; it’s my livelihood.

    And $150-200 an hour?! Color me jealous.

    1. Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)

      Please lend me some of your backbone. I need to start demanding what I am worth in the theater world!

    2. From your blog posts, you have a lot of terrific experience; one of the hardest things about working freelance is setting terms/conditions/prices for your skills — and sticking to them!
      I raised my hourly rate from $100 to 130, in the recession and now charge $150 to 200….with two books well-reviewed and 30 years’ experience, this is cheap! Ask around, especially here in NY where we both live (it costs me $8 in tolls alone to drive onto Manhattan and $30+ to park. As you know, it’s a terribly expensive place and our fees have to allow us a decent life, not just ramen!)

      I asked a local stylist to come help with my clothes — he wanted $250/hour. Lawyers charge $300-700+ an hour.
      Only creative folk are somehow expected to charge less….because?

  2. Good on you!

    I’ve been saying no to work on the side that I’ve been doing for years. I’ve come to realise it’s really not the direction I want to go, and I could better spend the time on the things I want to do. It causes me some anxiety though, because it’s a goodly amount of money (albeit, not my main income), and my “want to do” pays nothing at the moment.

    But ah. One has to start somewhere.

    I hear you re female conditioning. I find myself succumbing to this all the time and am trying a bit harder, to be assertive with that other side of myself that just wants to say yes to everyone/-thing.

    1. I’m surprised (you live in Oz, no?) as my sense of Australian women is no BS!

      I question why women — or anyone — feel so impelled to say yes when we really do not want to. I did it for decades and it left me really angry and resentful, when it was my own (gutless) choice to keep caving. The fact is that when we say NO, especially to crap behavior or conditions, it upsets the status quo…..OMG! 🙂 That sets of a chain reaction of whether, when or if anyone else will respond or change as a result. It sure puts them on notice that doormat-time is over.

      1. Yep, Australian women in general are no B.S. once the decision is made that it’s a no, and I’d imagine that the thresholds here are different than they would be in the States. But I’d say that in general they have the same expectations of being mother/nurturer and are therefore expected to put everyone else first, themselves last.

        Me, i’m Asian. 18 years of living in a society with the idea that my main role is to get educated so i can find a good, wealthy husband (and importantly, be a worthy wife for him) in my good, worthy working place, and raise good, educated children to carry on the tradition.

        *shudder* Yeesh. What a nightmare.

        I broke a lot of the above rules when i came to live here, but it’s the impression ingrained in women world over, that my role as a female of the species is to put everyone before me, that I fight. I enjoy supporting others, especially creatively, and get a lot out of it myself, but like a lot of people, i have problems knowing when to stop (it’s the guilt factor I think), put my hand up and say “i’m done.”

      2. You’ve got a lot of pressure!

        I had a much younger friend, 30, whose younger sister was married and pregnant by 25 — and being South Asian, that was her “job.” My friend, working on a Phd at a top uni and traveling the world to lecture at conferences, got NO respect from her family for all her amazing accomplishments, as she was neither, engaged, married or pregnant. It caused her tremendous pain. Luckily, my family or culture (white, Canadian) couldn’t have cared less about my marital or maternal status which has allowed me, for better or worse, to focus on my work and other interests.

      3. Heheh, you know, I have heard stories like that my whole life, told by well meaning rellies etc to steer us along the “right,” approved track. It does the opposite for some of us though.

        It’s changing as Asian nations develop (I’m from Singapore; it’s always been fairly modern), so we’re slowly easing out of it as the later generation grows up, but mindset’s a killer. My immediate family (parents, siblings) are quiet rebels themselves so we’re all agreed on disagreeing with everyone else, but it’s really, really good to be out of that stifling environment. Oz suits me far better than the motherland ever did.

      4. Lucky you to have been able to find a new place to make and call home…

        I left Canada in 1988 and I go back 2-5 times a year to see friends, but I do not miss some of the attitudes and behaviors there that drove me NUTS. I found some of them very stifling (although the US is insanely sexist and feels like 1933 when it comes to any form of women’s rights, abortion, contraception — everywhere has some BS to cope with.)

        I was always being mistaken for American when I lived in my native Canada (code word for: too pushy/aggressive/direct/confrontational/nakedly ambitious) — all very normal behaviors in NY!

  3. I find that saying “no” to all sorts of things and people has become infinitely easier since having a child. It’s as though simply being a mother has unlocked some reserve of confidence and assertiveness I never knew I had. An unexpected but welcome side-effect!

    1. That’s interesting…

      I don’t have kids. But I do maintain a low-enough overhead that I can (and do) turn down or walk away from projects that pay badly or people I find abusive of my time and skills. If you have a huge mortgage and other bills to meet, you can end up saying yes to many things you don’t like much — just to get the $$$$ in.

  4. A power exists in ‘no’, and I am proud of myself when I manage to say ‘no’. However, I still feel a sense of guilt after saying ‘no’. I find myself explaining to whomever why I am saying ‘no’, as if to get a reassurance that I made the right decision.

    I’m a work in progress, I guess. Aren’t we all, eh?

    1. It’s right if you think it is. 🙂

      Women are VERY heavily conditioned and socialized to crave approval, when making a choice that REALLY works for us can indeed piss people off. And then…they don’t like you. Meh. If they consistently want me to make decisions that make me miserable and them happy, they aren’t friends I want anyway.

      I doubt you’re petulant or impulsive with your “no’s….and if they are thoughtful and rational, why not just own them as such?

  5. Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)

    I have only recently started to recognize how much I have sacrificed by giving in. I have a lot of NOs on the horizon, but I know that ultimately it is what I need to do.

    1. Oh, yeah!

      This was the year — I am 54, for heaven’s sake — that I finally saw what deception and manipulation I had been dealt by a family member on whom I have danced polite attendance forever. It blew my mind. BLEW my mind. And that, in its own crappy way, has proven extremely liberating. No more eggshells. It’s NO city at our house!

  6. It is so important to have healthy boundaries . . . which of course includes the use of the word NO. I have to remind myself and several of my friends of this frequently. I appreciate your writing. Thanks for sharing.

  7. the home tome

    Editor at a huge corporation: “This article you have sent us is excellent and we’d like to publish it.”
    Little ol Me: “Great. How much do you pay?”
    Editor at a huge corporation: “Oh, we aren’t able to pay at this time. Is that a deal-breaker?”

    YES, deal breaker, which equals a big fat…..NO.

  8. And the angels sang!! You said it all. I believe my husband swept me off my feet by his ability to say no without drama. I wanted some of that for my daughter. I use geographical distance to protect myself. She looks you in the eye without flinching but relaxed when she says no. She did not have to wait until she was in her 50s.

    1. Thanks…

      It’s a very difficult one-syllable, two-letter word for many people to say — and mean — and stick by. I have sometimes paid a high price, financially and emotionally, by saying no to people. Fine. As it should be.

      A “no” isn’t necessarily easy, which might be why so few of us say it LOUD.

    1. It really depends on a variety of factors. The problem now is, in a lousy economy, too many people are dangling the carrot of “exposure” — without any guarantee of a sale or income stream from that exposure. I don’t care if 1,000 people see or hear me if none of them: 1) buy my books or 2) hire me for paid freelance work 3) offer me a contract or job.

      Am I “somebody?” At this point, yes, one might argue. But I have seen far too many naive people taken advantage of for “exposure” when all they are doing is filling up time and space for people who collect paychecks and think we should offer our work gratis.

  9. A very powerful post! It can be difficult to turn down any potential ‘exposure’ opportunities (those infernal “what ifs?” always at the back of the mind), but I applaud you for knowing your worth and asking for– or demanding!– it.

  10. Thanks! I hear from far too many people — including the comments here — how they are slammed against the wall of “free” and “exposure” and giving your skills and talents away.

    To me, it’s a simple issue. It has taken me decades to acquire my skills. They have value, if not to one client, then another. I will truthfully say that this is the first year I have stood so firm — and NO one is balking at my rates. You pay for “cheap”, what do you get?

    You are the only person who can decide that you are worth something! You need to know the wider marketplace for your skills, but what do **you** bring?

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