The Power In No

One of the biggest lessons I learned throughout my undergraduate degree was learning when to say NO. It didn’t come from a professor, but it came from my boss at the time, Wendy. Wendy was a no-nonsense boss who recognized and encouraged her employees to always do their best.

At the young age of 21, I was eager to do a good job. I was “queen of doing for others.” I was a Resident Advisor (a role that required me to be responsible for so many others’ safety and security). In this role I had needy, younger people all around me. In fact, I believe there was a two-week stretch of time where I had the police on my floor everyday. If it wasn’t one thing it was another:

  • Young adults over drinking and passing out in the bathrooms.
  • Trips to Mexico where the girls were being physically accosted.
  • A step-father’s attempt to murder his daughter.
  • Young women realizing they were safe and opening up about being molested.

It was all a bit much for me. I was up at 6:30 a.m. for classes and then would come home and attempt to focus, only to be interrupted by students in one crisis after another.

Wendy recognized this pattern immediately and gave me an assignment. Always wanting to be a good student, I took it on: “Give it to me, Wendy, I can do it.” She said, “For the next couple of weeks, every day, I want you to say ‘no’ to something and/or someone.” My heart dropped. Say NO? Really? That’s my assignment?

I took this on but it wasn’t very easy. I learned a lot from saying NO. In fact, I would say that was the biggest lesson I learned in college. You cannot possibly be in service to others and serve yourself when you are depleted. You must know when to say NO. Saying “no” gives us power. It gives us confidence. It takes us from passive aggressive to assertive and allows us to make a choice (which is always powerful). Saying no has the potential to put you in the position to say YES to yourself (which is power).

If you are anything like me, saying no can be difficult. It takes practice, but once you get the hang of it, just like anything else, it becomes easier.