The Nova Scotia house I fell in love with — and had to say NO to for my financial health
By Caitlin Kelly
It’s sometimes very difficult for me.
I’ve been freelance for much of my life and career — which often means saying an immediate and hearty yes to work even if you’re ill or exhausted or grieving or might not even need the income right then, because there are always fallow periods when you need to have acquired some savings.
So saying No, or No thanks, or I’ll pass or It’t not a great fit for me can feel awkward and risky.
But — and pardon the cliche — I now see saying “no” (without offering endless explanations or reasons or justifications) as a primal sort of self-care.
Resentment and anger for reluctantly saying yes just corrode the soul.
So you have to get good at saying no, even when it feels like a dangerous choice.
Especially when something apparently alluring is offered and your gut tells you….don’t do it.
Women are often trained from early childhood to keep everyone happy, to avoid conflict, to keep the peace — which can mean saying yes to all sorts of things we really don’t want to do! That could be hosting or attending a family event, agreeing to do something that makes us seethe inside or accepting a lowball offer of work or salary.
Our eagerness to please and not offend or annoy or anger — especially if you were raised in a family that always made quite clear what they wanted — continues for decades, in our loves and marriage and friendships and work and medical settings.
When we know someone holds power over us — even if it’s our choice — it can feel very difficult to risk losing their affection or support or kindness.
I had a friend here in New York for many years, someone I thought would be friends for life. We laughed a lot, traveled together, were often mistaken for sisters. Then she married someone I really didn’t like, nor did he care for me. Invited to her destination wedding, I said no. The friendship ended soon thereafter.
I sometimes still miss her, but with hindsight I also saw more clearly that I was the more submissive one. I don’t miss that role.
With work, it’s tough to turn down any chance to earn income; freelancers only “eat what we kill”, with no guarantees. But sometimes we can tell it’s just not a good fit.
With offers of pro bono work, as one recently made to me, it’s even more of a calculation; I was told I could address a small group of professionals who might hire me for my coaching skills.
The offer was very flattering.
If the group had been 50 or more people, the odds of that happening would have been better.
If the person asking me wasn’t getting paid — but not paying me — maybe.
If the demands for more and more of my time before even doing the presentation had stopped, perhaps.
It became easy to say no.
It ended civilly and professionally…which doesn’t mean I feared some sort of verbal fistfight.
When you emerge from a verbally abusive family, saying no always feels like an unwise choice.
I’ve been asked many times, mostly by my father and late mother, to do things I really didn’t want to do — from signing a document to sell real estate I had no financial interest in to cooking and cleaning house when visiting.
I grew up ages eight to 13 in boarding school and camp so a conventionally intimate family life wasn’t really in the cards…so I don’t feel much obligation in return. I left home for good at 19 when my father sold the family home and moved to Europe with his girlfriend.
No one paid for my university education but some income from my maternal grandmother and what I earned from my own freelance writing and photography work.
Saying no when others have said it to me many times?
Do you find saying “no” difficult?
14 thoughts on “Learning to say no”
yes, I’ve learned over the years to feel comfortable saying no.
Thanks! I still find it absurdly hard in some instances. I’m not a shy person in many ways, but…
I just want to voice support to you. Sounds to me like you know what you need, and you’re doing the right thing. Sounds also to me that like a lot of us freelancers, you’re often not getting what you deserve.
I will place this in context: It was Ronald Reagan who first reduced taxes on the wealthy, and Bush 2 and the former guy followed up (I can’t remember about Bush 1). I don’t know how direct the effect has been, but the absolute wages have gone down. One institution I worked for paid $2/hr from the ’90s into the ’00s–for stuff that I could do quickly. I worked for them in the latter ’10s, for $1.50/hr. The work was a lot harder, so much less remunerative.
And in general, I’ve found that wages have gone down similarly in the science writing world.
Thanks. Stagnant wages is a huge problem in an age of terrible inflation.
To say “no” sometimes — yes! This is a crucially important advising/reminder for anyone at any time in any circumstance. The fear of saying “no” can be huge, no matter what our gut says, so I’ve learned to respond, “Let me think on it, and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.” By then, I’ll have found an effective and respectful way of refusing. (Oh, but I can’t help wishing you’d gotten that sweet house — that must’ve hurt.🌹)
Oh, that’s a wise answer.
Thanks about the house….still a bit sad.
I like the process by which you came to a no. I find I have to do the same, in order to overcome the pleaser so ingrained in me.
Thanks…it can be harder than we like.
Definitely. You are welcome
My sister’s first word was “No!” Not “Mama,” not “Dada”–“No!”
I’ve always loved her for that.
This is beautiful! I used to have a hard time saying no but now, I prioritize my health and well-being and say no when I want to.
You are doing great by saying no when you want to. You’re right, girls are taught to just say yes, which is bad.
Thanks for reading and commenting.