On saying no


I'm in Pittsburgh, for the Young Adult Services Symposium, and for a few days before, to hang out with my good friend J. Last night, we got a beer and pizza and talked about What We Want, real big picture stuff. This kind of discussion is useful for me because I don't generally think/plan in real big picture ways. I don't have a grand vision of what I want my life or my career to be like, for example. Mostly, I just say yes to things I feel good about and no to things I feel bad about, and generally the yeses lead to more yeses, the nos just fizzle out, and things stay more or less in balance. Lately, this has been coming out in terms of tenure stuff -- this December, I need to prepare and turn in my third-year review, essentially the half-way point on the road to tenure. Should I be more freaked out about this? Maybe I'm naive, or just stubborn, but there you go. Would it really feel horrible not to get tenure? Yes. Would I be able to find something else to do with my time? Also yes. Would it be the end of my world? No.

Poirot says "Non."

Poirot says "Non."

ANYWAY. Today, I decided to stop pursuing a project that I'd started recently -- it's a great idea, but I just don't have the time or support that the project needs to be successful. This kind of no is hard for me -- something I believe in, that won't get done without me. But, saying no is often when I feel most secure about my convictions and certain about myself. Sometimes it takes a while to get there, but it totally, totally matters.

So, I've been thinking about the power of saying no, and when I do and don't feel comfortable doing that. When J. asked me about What I Want, I said, I want to be able to say yes to things I feel excited about, and no to things I don't. Being afraid to say no makes for a terrible work environment. I feel lucky that in my current job, I have a lot of flexibility and autonomy -- not total free reign, which honestly can feel a little lonely, but I can generally have thoughtful conversations about what should/shouldn't be my responsibility. At my last job, I remember someone telling me that I had a reputation as someone who would say no. Which honestly, what does it mean about cultural norms if sometimes saying no is noticeable enough to be a distinguishing trait?