• Sara Reeves

The art of 'no'


The word itself is riddled with positive connotations. It’s easy to want to raise your hand at the term ‘opportunity’ – to go for those opening doors. Especially in recent times, where every door seemed to be shutting in our faces as we found ourselves getting locked inside.

Now that ‘opportunities’ seem to be arising again, it’s prime time to take them, right? As fanciful the idea of taking every opportunity that arises is, it’s not what’s best for you.

Let’s define my usage of ‘opportunities’ for a moment. To me, an opportunity could be anything spanning from a party down the street at Brad’s house to mingle, or a position at Harper Collins Publishing. Two very different ends of the spectrum, but both equally important to human existence, i.e. general human interaction at Brad’s, and earning bank at a Publishing house. Sometimes, however, I don’t have the energy or will for real people, and maybe I’m too busy to juggle a position at HarperCollins (but if y'all really want me, I can sort something out ;)).

F.O.M.O., or fear of missing out, is usually how we explain not going to the party down the street, even though you haven’t had a wink of sleep for the whole week, so what are we supposed to call it when we take these positions even if they aren’t right? Is it because it’s an ‘opportunity’?

‘No’ has never been a hard word for me to say. Sure, it might take me a good while to muster up the courage to say it in situations I’m not sure of, but the word comes out clearly and I stay with my stance. For others, this isn’t true. Saying ‘no’ in any situation feels like a foreign concept. So when these ‘opportunities’ are arising left right and centre, what else is there to do but say yes?

We’re programmed to please; we never want to let other people down, even if they couldn’t care less about our final decision. We put others first, because being ‘selfish’ is a bad thing. We ignore our own mental health to spend a night out clubbing because we would feel too bad about saying ‘no’. Even when we can no longer handle our commitments, we refuse to let things go because we don’t want to be a ‘flake’ or seem unable to dedicate ourselves to anything.

Ultimately, it is the choice of the beholder whether or not this ‘opportunity’ is beneficial or a soon to be hindrance. It’s best to think of your opportunities as a sales pitch. If you’re in a store being pestered about buying the latest product, it’s a lot easier to push it away and say ‘no’, because we know it’s not what we want when we’re shopping around for other things. Often, it is the seller, not yourself, that reaps the most benefit, and you’re left in the dust wondering how you lost all your time and energy to this ‘opportunity’ you took.

As a young and budding writer with a couple of stories up online, anyone approaching me with an ‘opportunity’ to earn money from my work felt too good to refuse. I had a hard time saying no until I realised that these ‘deals’ would offer me essentially nothing, as the brand took hold of my work on their platform. You see, having an email saying that my work was ‘wanted’ by this new and exciting platform felt like everything I had dreamt of. Truth is, I don’t think any of these people had ever read my work, they just saw the views and targeted my naïvety from there.

I was put in a position where I had to really think about what I wanted from my work. To be beneficial as a career, I needed to be published in paperback to invite new readers to my work. It became more obvious with each offer that all these companies wanted to do was take my work away from my readership. Being a writer without readers would take me right back to square one.

I knew that my readers wanted my success, and I wanted my work to be easily accessible to all of them. Saying ‘no’ avoided ruining both of these factors.

As great of a learning opportunity that was for me, my ability to avoid ‘opportunities’ still hd a long way to go. Job ads are still a sincere weakness of mine. They all seem so appealing at the first glance. So easy.

Yeah, it might be an hour away, but so what? That totally doesn’t defeat the whole purpose of leaving my last position that was too far away. Honestly, I have no reason to leave my current position until I can be working on my career, but it’s so tempting. While my job might make me want to quit on the spot every few days and live like a bum until I finish university and can work full time, I need to be able to afford fuel and food first.

Plus, I saw this position as an ‘opportunity’ first too, right? If retail is good for one thing, it’s just a socially anxious kid some coworkers to become new friends.

Oftentimes, when I see postings for positions, I think, ‘yeah, I can handle that!’. Well, I might have been able to, if it weren’t for my full-time study, part time work, and the occasional internship I get myself into (Cheers, Cheek!). Fanciful, of course, but it’s not healthy. Working yourself to burnout for the sake of an ‘opportunity’ that may or may not be good for you is just as bad as working yourself too hard at the gym when you have a hike the next morning.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. You can’t just ease years of automatic answers, but you just have to give yourself time. You’re allowed to think things over to make sure you’re not overwhelming yourself. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

I’m not telling you to say ‘no’ at every door, but remember to let yourself breathe every once in a while. Spend some time with yourself, and find what you really want. You never know, it might just do you some good.