I am the sort of person who always wants to say “yes.” I think women in particular have a hard time saying “no” to people. There are a number of reasons that contribute to this, but for me, a lot of it has to do with my worry that if I say no, I might be turning down an opportunity that could have had great impact on my career. I also worry (unnecessarily) that my saying no will change the perception of the person who has asked me to read their script/board their project/help fundraise for their charity and that they might not ask me to be involved in the future.
Time is limited. Doing it all is very different from doing it all well. This is a lesson that can only be learned when you take on too much and then lay awake at night worrying and making endless lists that haunt you well into your dreams. The workaholic culture in the United States combined with the busy lifestyle of creatives anywhere (everyone has a job and something they do on the side) makes it easy to tell yourself this is how it should be. It’s not.
I decided I needed to better vet the things I do in order to give me breathing space to relax, which allows me to think and create more consciously. In a way, I wanted to learn how to say “no” so that I could say “yes” to the things that I find really important. I am still teaching myself how to say no, but I’d like to share some of my tips with all of you struggling as fellow yes-women.
-Decide how much time you need for yourself. Then block that time out of your schedule. This can be time to meditate, exercise, write in a journal or simply stare into space. Taking care of yourself should never come second – your well-being and mental state directly contribute to how well you are able to perform in your work, your career and life.
-Once you have figured out how much time you need for you, figure out how much time you have left over from work. Determine how many projects or side gigs that you can feasibly take on without causing too much undue stress and tension.
-When you’re thinking of taking on a new project, make sure you determine what purpose it serves. Is it something you’re genuinely curious about? Are you helping out a friend? Will it be a good addition to your reel? Will it get your name out there? Really think about why you’re getting involved. Then think about how much time it will take up in your life and be ready for that change.
-Once you take on the new project, let your colleagues know exactly how much you can give and if there are any non-negotiable times that you are unavailable. Refer back to the time you’ve carved out for yourself. Make sure you’re giving yourself time to relax.
-If you’re anything like me, the number of projects you want to take on always exceeds the time you have. If you simply CANNOT do without being involved, make sure that you will able to shift appropriately to accommodate the added responsibility. Maybe you don’t go out to lunch as often or you stop going to book club. Whatever it is that you change, be comfortable with it. Don’t stop doing something you like doing because you may grow to resent the new project for not allowing you to do it anymore.
This isn’t groundbreaking advice. But when we’re surrounded by people who seem to do it all, it’s necessary. At the height of my stress last year, I was attached to produce three projects, in development and actively writing on a fourth, working full time and I had just gotten engaged so was beginning to plan an out-of-state wedding. I was terrified to pull back, but I’m happier now than I have ever been. I am conscious about the projects I work on and how much time they take, which allows me to be much more present with each one.