To say yes to your talents, just say NO

by Lisa Rothstein on 06/07/2011

We want to say yes to everything. Yes to writing that novel, yes to running with that new business idea, yes to illustrating that children’s story, yes to composing that song, etc. etc. etc.

As DaVincis, it’s hard enough to find the time and mindshare for our own projects and dreams.  But then, we have the Others. Like the long lost relatives who come out of the woodwork when you’ve won the lottery, these people see our wealth of talents and want their fair share. We feel guilty that we have been given something that they have not. We may even have shown off at some point to them to get their approval. And now we have to pay.

“Oh, you’re just so talented! ” they cry. Beware of this phrase of praise, because with Others, it is very often followed by: “We need someone to create scenery for the school play/write our club newsletter/sing at my niece’s wedding/write our synagogue’s annual report/make a slide show /create a birthday card for (some person you know only vaguely).”

Repeat after me:  Just because I can, doesn’t mean I have to.

Say this to yourself, not to them, of course. For the Others, you need to have a stock phrase ready. “Oh, I’d love to, but I’m just too busy with other projects”  is a good one. It’s none of their business what those projects are. They may not even exist yet. But you’re a DaVinci, so they will.

Here is how to arm yourself against the temptation to say yes too much.

1. Get clear on your own goals and what it will take to get them. Often you don’t feel you have the right to refuse, because you feel you do have time to do what they want. But do you really? If you really got down to the nitty gritty of what you want to accomplish for yourself, and all the steps involved, and scheduled them into your calendar…would you really be free to write and direct the Christmas Pageant? Often we say yes to the Others by default, because we’ve not really said Yes to our own dreams.   This creates a vacuum, which the Others will sense and fill every time. You need to learn to become master of “the Enlightened No” — a term I recently picked up from Gay Hendricks in his excellent book, The Big Leap.

2. Don’t be put on the spot. If you’re one of those people-pleasers who just hate saying no in person and so find yourself committing just to avoid the discomfort of refusing, go ahead and take the coward’s way out. Buy time by saying you need to check your schedule and you’ll get back to them by tomorrow. Then send an email in the morning saying that after checking your calendar, the commitment just doesn’t work for you. NOTE: Do NOT procrastinate on sending this email. It only gets harder with time. Getting back to them right away demonstrates that you took their request seriously (even if you didn’t). Besides, delaying it isn’t fair to the Others, who need the time to hunt for another victim…er, volunteer.

3. Consciously plan ahead and decide what favors you will say “yes” to. I’m not telling you never to be generous with your talents. That’s one of the joys of having them, and I do believe it’s our duty to share our gifts. Just have some parameters. Just as even the most generous people have a budget or tithe for charitable giving, and set of causes they contribute to, you can plan ahead how much time you time you will give to each of the things you care about. Maybe you’ll take on one project per year or one smaller one per season. This way you’ll know whether you’ve already given more than enough time to your PTA or the managing board of your glee club.

Activity: Look at your current list of to-dos and see if you are doing anything you said “yes” to out of guilt, habit or a compulsion to please, that is now taking up time you wish it were not. Make a mental note to say “no” or at least “not right now” to these sorts of activites in the future. BONUS: Make a list of personal, professional and/or creative goals you value, and to which you want to commit time. Put this list in a place you will see it often, so you’ll know why you want to be judicious with your  “yesses” to  other requests.

Do you have trouble saying no? Or do you have an ingenious way to do so? Please share here!

Want to re-publish this article? Go for it – just include the author’s name, a link to this original post and the following text blurb:

Are you struggling with too many talents, skills, ideas? You may have The DaVinci Dilemma™! Find tools, fun quizzes, coaching, inspiration and solutions for multi-talented people at .

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea Feinberg June 8, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Hi Lisa ~ Tip #1 in my book, “Time Junkie” is: ‘just say no’! The way I do it is this: ‘thanks so much for asking me but I wouldn’t be able to give your project the attention it deserves.’ We’re often so flattered that we’ve been asked, that our talent has been acknowledged, that we feel compelled to say ‘yes’. If we simply accept the honor of having been asked, and stop right there, we can be safe and avoid the eventual resentment, like buyer’s remorse, that sets in after we’ve been fooled into making a decision we regret!
Andrea Feinberg recently posted..The Key to Keeping Your Line in the Sand Uncrossed

Lisa Rothstein July 20, 2011 at 9:28 am

So true Andrea — and great analogy with “buyer’s remorse.” It really is like that! I also liken it to dating. We’re flattered that the guy asked us out so we reward him by saying yes — even if it’s the wrong guy. Sometimes I think this goes directly to self-esteem. When you NEED the approval of others and don’t believe you deserve it, you feel you must pay them back for the compliment. I even believe some people sense this neediness about us and take advantage of it. When you don’t know your own worth, someone else gets a bargain.

LOVE your stock answer, too — I’m going to use it! – LR

Rose Muenker July 3, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Love your advice to plan how much time you will make available so you don’t over-commit! Your recommendation to make lists is great!

Rose Muenker
Writing Coach & Mentor

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Linda Ursin July 3, 2013 at 2:54 pm

That hit the spot. I really need to get better at not jumping on anything that sounds fun. I’ve got way too much to do.

Linda Ursin
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Nina Johnson July 3, 2013 at 3:05 pm

This will really help me maintain my sanity. I too have to learn how to say no.

Jen Jones July 4, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Just because I can, doesn’t mean I have to. Just because I can, doesn’t mean I have to.

Thank you <3

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