Knowing When To Say ‘No’

We sometimes need to say ‘no’.

It’s an important element in our resilience as individuals and parents, and in our careers.

But it’s not easy. These days, we’re under such a lot of pressure to do this and do that, to buy the latest thing that’s been advertised at our kids, to stay late at the office. Phrases like ‘going the extra mile’ and ‘exceeding expectations’ have become part of our daily vocabulary.

Obviously, we need and want to be open and positive, and to make ourselves available, when asked. The customer is king, we’re fiercely monitored at work, and we’re constantly getting feedback about our performance. In our personal lives, we’re targeted by expert marketing, we’re persuaded to consume, to go to the party, to say yes to the latest offer.

Don’t get me wrong. In my time, I’ve been as enthusiastic as anyone, and saying yes even when I didn’t always want to, has got me to some interesting places. But I feel like some of this constantly saying ‘yes’ sprang from a desire for approval, a natural need to be liked, and not to cause trouble.

An example. All I wanted to do in my twenties was to be an actor. I was good at it, I played lead roles in the Student Theatre group at university, I won a place at drama school, I got my Equity card soon after. But strapped for cash, and with a good degree under my belt, I caved in and said ‘yes’ to corporate job offers – when I should have said ‘no’, stuck to my original desire, and carved out a career in the theatre. Now, at 57, I profoundly regret that I failed that challenge.

I should have said no, but there it is. A life. It’s a coin that spins quickly, slows suddenly, and falls. I was just trying to do what I thought was the sensible thing.

Now I so much admire those in the public eye who have held out for their dream, endured sacrifice over many years, but emerged with confidence and creativity. Musicians, actors, painters. Their resilience over time in attributing value to the simple things that inspire them is admirable.

Saying no is hard. That’s why as partners, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, friends, employers, we should be ultra-sensitive to the demands we place on others. Putting the important people in our lives in a position where they are afraid to say ‘no’ is a subtle kind of passive aggressive action that in the long term can be quite destructive.

Ultimately, being able to say ‘no’ implies that we have established crystal clear personal goals and aspirations. And so few of us have done this. We tend to ‘go with the flow’ and follow the crowd, but if only we could identify and write down what it is that we want out of life, it might be easier to stay resilient and say ‘no’ when we need to.

Representing Resilience+Co I was pleased and proud to meet many inspiring teenagers, to present the Rutland Youth Awards for Overcoming Adversity this week in Oakham, and to promote the fantastic work of the UK Sepsis Trust.

Have a great week everybody.