‘No’ goes a long way.

Work. Is. Crazy. This week. Well. This month. Well. This year so far.
Where normally I’d be working on one or two big bids simultaneously at most – I’m currently engaged in 5(!!) and it is taking a damn toll on my mental sanity, I feel like. Mostly because, when compared to ‘normal’…I’m doing the work of three people, all by my lonesome.

It’s moments like these…when the evening hours and weekends are no longer sacred moments of freedom, but extra opportunities for work – that I fear falling into a trap of ‘giving too much’ for too little reward. You see, the thing about working really really really hard is that people will generally treat it like it’s normal, unless you get some amazing rave results. So the more you work, the more you pile on, the more you do? The more people will start expecting you to pull that weight from there on out. There’s no winning. You never get the full appreciation for super-power-induced-performance. It’s shrugged off way too often.

I’ve often joked to people that I usually work at only 30% of my actual capabilities, because if I’d give a 100% people would get scared or lose their jobs for not meeting my insane standards. Now, that’s an overly dramatic statement (cause I’m an overly dramatic person), but at the core of it…it’s kinda true. Usually I do tone myself down, a lot.

I take on less work than I probably could, but not because I’m lazy or don’t wanna do more – but because I want to do all of the things I do to the best of my ability. And now I’m getting into a situation where I have SO much work – that I can still (very barely) manage to do it all, but it’s never more than ‘just finishing’ the work because it HAS to be done. There’s no shine on it. No polishing. No added eye for detail or pretty little garnishings. It’s the work. Period.

And when you’re in a field of professionals that ALL know how to do their job, and do it well – just barely scraping the barrel isn’t what you want to be doing. You NEED that bit of ‘extra’ to draw in the wins we so sorely want within the company. So even though I’m still managing – I’m not happy with the things I’m doing. Which is why, before I ACTUALLY overload, I’m already taking steps to make sure that I can put quality over quantity.

You see, there’s a choice that we all have when it comes to moments like these. I could stumble on. Shoulder the weight and hope I come out on the other end of the overflow without a burnout and a couple of wins to boot. OR I could have the harder conversation to scale down in some areas, so I can excel in others. And though I’m often a very conflict-avoiding type: it’s in moments like these that I do NOT shun tough calls. Which is why I’m both successful, and appreciated in my line of work, so far. I hope. Think. Wish.

But…
The point I’m really trying to make, at least at a professional level is this:
Do NOT be afraid to draw a line in the sand and make your limits visible. Do NOT be afraid to say no. No, even though it’s such a hard thing to say, WILL make you better in the long run. And where you WILL be forgiven for a no – you might not be so easily forgiven for a yes-that-failed. Have those hard conversations. Be clear about what you can and can’t do. CHOOSE quality over quantity. And your mental stability over high performance. Always. It pays off in the end.

Just saying.

16 thoughts on “‘No’ goes a long way.

  1. “No” also helps keep expectations in check and promotes work/life balance.

    I used to be an unhappy overachiever. I’m happier now that I don’t feel obligated to always be available and I rarely feel guilty for not being like other people in my field (remedial engineering and consulting). They still can’t figure out why I don’t pursue project management opportunities (secret: it’s because you have less control over work/life balance).

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  2. Your post takes me back to the first nine months of 2020 and the five years before that when work became work and I never quite felt that I was doing the best job possible. While I had learned to say “no” at some point in my career, there came a time when our agency was understaffed and administration adding new policy and projects out of necessity. HR became insane and as hard as I tried to delegate fairly and streamline duties, it never got any better. It was actually like this throughout the agency and with the pandemic, we had a hiring freeze that made matters worse. The agency does good work for the community and the clients they serve, but the result has been a revolving door of staff and burnout. Not sure what the answer will be for them, but I can tell you I am soooooo happy being retired.

    I hope you are able to say “no” and draw your line in the sand and find some peace from the stress of too much work, too little time. You may see weekend or weeknight time as work time, but ensure that you have your fun and relaxing “me” time too.

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  3. Zoe, I agree. The more and better you do, the more they expect from you. They want it done right so they look for the 20% that does 80% of the work. When they burn that person out they find another.
    I am glad you have found it in you to say “no.” It is a powerful word.

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  4. I agree with this so much! Plus, your own limits help you figure out if other people are just using you. I was once expected to work at a high level two weeks after having appendicitis. Um, no way. You find out a lot about someone’s character when you say no to them

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  5. Thank you for sharing this and your advice to say no. I find I get excited and then I overextend myself (I work fulltime, tutor English students in the evenings, run my own blog, freelance write, and I work as a volunteer grant writer). Sometimes it just is too much and I don’t feel like I am giving each task my 100 percent. But I don’t want to give up any of these responsibilities. 😦

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  6. Yes I totally believe in it word no and encourage others to use it more freely…I think people get trapped in the thinking of being unkind but when you say no you’re being kind to yourself… You’re carving out space for your self, your needs, your rights… At work I say yes a ton but I also say no to reasonable things too… It’s a give and take, but whenever I say no I make it known why… And that helps a lot I find (for my guilt and got others understanding)…

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  7. Ha! You sound just like my wife. She is a classic hard working over-achieving professional. Always trying to do less in an effort to not get piled on. You know her favorite saying is, “they always give the most work to whoever has the biggest pile on their desk” She is in constant battle with the ups and downs of her skill set.

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