An Easy Way to Start Saying “No.”

When I was coming up through the ranks in the advertising industry, I didn’t lead what anyone would call a “balanced” life.  I woke up, went to work, worked late, went home, went to bed, and then went back for more on the weekends.

Even when I wasn’t at work, I was still thinking about work.

When I was at the pool, I was reading Made To Stick or Good To Great and when I was drinking wine with my girlfriends,  I was grilling them about what was in their pantry and why they bought it. They thought it was charming (“Oh here she goes again!”), and I thought it was helpful. Everybody was a winner.

I liked my life back then. I took pride in being a hard worker and my over-punched time card helped me advance quickly through the ranks of responsibility.

However, I was stopped in my tracks one day when a client asked me what I did for fun. It was the only question he had asked all day that I couldn’t answer.

Since “sleep” seemed like a remarkably lame response, I giggled awkwardly and quickly changed the subject. It bothered me that I couldn’t answer his question. But it didn’t bother me for long. I went back to work and forgot about it. Imagine that.

But then I conceived, grew and birthed a life outside of work: my daughter, Layla.

It was official. I had a new, non-work life and I wanted to protect it.  But I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how to say no. Truth be told, I’d never really done it.

Want me to work all weekend? Yep.

Want me to jump on a plane and fly to NYC tomorrow at 6:00 am? Sure.

Want me to work 19-hour days, three days in a row? You betcha.

In all honesty, I knew how to say yes  a million different ways, but I’d never uttered the word no.

When I came back from maternity leave with a new purpose (and new fears), I asked my business partner, Brad Armstrong, for advice. How could I learn to say no while helping to lead the biggest account in the agency’s history?

His advice was provocative and profound. And it changed my life.

“When it comes to saying no, just think of your job as a teenage boy trying to make out with you. This job is going to take everything you’ll give it and still want more,” he explained. “And it’s up to you to draw boundaries regarding what you are, and are not, willing to do. It’s imperative to determine and declare your boundaries (not working weekends, being home in time for dinner, etc.) before the heat of the moment. Because if you wait until the heat of the moment, they’ll start begging (“But, Katherine, we neeeeeeeed you in this meeting that’s in LA tomorrow”) and you’ll start caving.”

Holy macaroni.

In the 27 seconds it took for him to share his advice, I could feel my life changing. It was the perfect analogy. Was it because I made out with too many boys in high school, or because it was so profoundly simple? Who cares. It worked.

And since most of the people I worked with at the time were men, I had fun with it—for years.

When they asked me to do something that would  jeopardize the boundaries I’d set, I’d simply say (in my mind), “Nope. I am not making out with you right now.” Then I’d giggle and tell say, “No.”

It worked.

Like magic.

Every time.

It changed my life in so many ways. It gave me a guilt-free way to say no, it protected my new and very important life outside of work, and it made me laugh along the way.

Now, that’s some great advice.

Who knew being a prude could be so much fun?

1 Comment

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Alexia Nye Jacksonreply

Loved this! GO Katherine!

As a mom comic and documentarian in the work/life balance “mom Space” I loved this!..loved that your imagery for saying no to the over-the-top requests from the now-adult work side of your life…was that of the pushy teen boy! The fact that a male colleague imparted this to you, is right on target for the hope that men and women can actually be “all in” together for balancing the playing field! yay!

There’s so much more to this blog than meets the eye! Yep-it starts early in life girls, and you may as well stand your ground then – and now! Truly, a solid message…. in more ways than one….basically, “if you don’t lead your life, someone else will.”

-Signed, That’s More Like It- Alexia 😉

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