Brenda Kelley Kim
+ posts

‘Don’t say maybe if you want to say no’

– Ryan Holiday


See how that works? It’s one word, but I checked Grammarly and everything; it’s a complete sentence. Lately, though, it’s been a challenge for me to say no to certain requests, and it’s hard to figure out why. First, my family and friends know that if they need something, come get me. Saying no when someone is in a bind, whether it’s a ride, a quick meal, a chat, or an errand, isn’t in my vocabulary. People who know me know me well enough to feel comfortable asking, and I’m so glad about that. 

But then there are the other times when someone asks us for something. The times when it’s not an emergency, it’s not a dear friend who needs help, it’s just a situation where a person wants you involved. Maybe it’s an extra bit of work at your job, an invite to some horrible home party where you have to buy cheap plastic crap, or going out to some event that you’d rather bash your head against a wall repeatedly than attend are all in that grey area of wanting to help out, but also not wanting to help. So do we need a reason to say no to something? Do we have to justify it somehow when we refuse requests like this?


There’s that sentence again. We’ve all done it. Someone comes to you with an ask; it’s minor, not life-altering, and no one is having a crisis, but…they’ve asked you to jump in on it. Inside your head, you might be thinking, “I would rather chew glass than attend that event/finish that project/paint that room. Honestly, I would jump out of a moving car to avoid that unholy mess,” but what comes out is “Oh, yeah, OK, I can do that, sure.” 

Among my friends, it’s mostly women who sometimes feel stuck or obligated. I’m sure some sociologist did a whole Ph.D. project on why some women don’t stick up for their wants and needs and feel they have to please everyone. I may find one of those dissertations and read it, but in the meantime, I have decided there are some instances where I have no problem saying no. At no time will I be doing any of the following:

  1. Sticking with people, jobs, or projects where someone is rude or unprofessional. I’ve had what feels like seven hundred jobs in my life. Public service, law enforcement, travel, writing, corporate communications, web design, education, customer service, diner waitress. That last job was one of my favorites. I’ve learned a ton at each position, and one of the best lessons is knowing when a situation isn’t going to get better. I’ve literally gotten up from a job interview and said, “This isn’t going to work for me, thank you for your time.” The slow times can be brutal when you’re a gig worker, but my sanity and self-worth are important enough to walk away from outright rude or unprofessional behavior.
  1. Saying yes to doing things I don’t enjoy. For example, I don’t ski; I don’t hike; I don’t camp. I love hearing about the great times people who like these activities have, but no thanks, I’ll pass. Nature is lovely if I can look out a window at it, but stomping around in a forest isn’t fun for me. While I have to tolerate snow, I do not have to strap on $500 worth of equipment, be hoisted into the air on a rickety swing and cable, and then hurl myself down a mountain. Nothing about that sounds fun, and I’m not going to do any of it. 
  1. Paying to shop. This one sounds odd, but hear me out. One of my jobs is to write about antiques and collectibles. The fun part is that I get to go to places like Brimfield and SoWa Vintage Market and dive into all the vintage wonderfulness. If antiques fair or shop requires me to pay to get in? Nope. It’s simple math for me; I need to maximize the amount I can spend on Art Deco trinkets and mid-century modern dishes. I chose to pass by fields at Brimfield that required an admission price. I don’t spend money just for the chance to buy something. Well, OK, I do have a club membership at BJ’s, but the money I save doing that offsets the cost. Also, I would buy a plane ticket to Vegas, but I don’t gamble; I win. Plus, there’s always a free buffet. 

It can be challenging to know when to say no, and walk away and when to stick it out. There will always be those situations where we might not want to do something, but somehow we wind up going to that kitchen equipment party or helping someone move out of their fifth-floor walk-up in August. So I’m going to go with the standard 80% rule. If I stick to saying no when I don’t have to say yes and don’t want to say yes, 80% of the time, then that will have to do.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: