Set Boundaries & Say No

Set Boundaries & Say No May 5, 2021

Guest blog by Laura S. Scott

I was in my mid thirties, a freelance journalist for a business publication, when my editor called me to offer me the opportunity to write the entire annual profile publication. It was quite a prestigious assignment for a newbie journalist but I knew I had to say “No” and so I did. I could tell he was a bit shocked as I told him that I had a competing opportunity that couldn’t be delayed. After I put the phone down, I felt a mix of relief and pride, and then worry that would never be offered that assignment again. Saying no is not always easy but it’s critical if you want to be strategic in your career path.

Saying no is the first step in setting boundaries.

Saying no is the first step in setting boundaries. During the phone call with my editor I had the distinct impression that I was not the first person he had asked. As the newbie freelancer at the publication I often got the assignments that others had passed on and I was perfectly fine with that. I liked the variety of assignments and I wanted to hone my writer’s chops. But instead of feeling like this assignment was a huge career opportunity my gut told me this would be a huge, time sucking distraction. In retrospect, I believe I made the correct decision.

There are many good reasons why it’s important to say “No” to things. Utilizing the strategic “No” and setting boundaries, where appropriate, allows you to stay in the driver seat when it comes to navigating your career trajectory. When I was in my twenties, my ego needs prompted me to say “yes” to a lot of jobs and opportunities because “they really need me!” 

These ego-driven projects and assignments became the bright shiny objects on my career path and even now, in my fifties, I still catch myself thinking, “Oh that sounds interesting…” But then I pause. I pause because I know that my well-being, my happiness, my growth, my life and career are defined by what I say “Yes” to and what I say “No” to.

Still, a “No” can be hard to deliver unless you have a handy, customized acid test for what to say “No” to.  Here is mine. Feel free to create your own acid test based on your own unique values and aspirations.

Laura will say “No” when:

  1. The activity does not utilize my strengths or is not alignment with my development, or learning, goals and aspirations.
  2. What I’m being asked to do is not in alignment with my ethics, morals, or values.
  3. It is not alignment with my life goals or career strategy.
  4. It feels like mission creep, or a slippery slope. There’s no turning back.
  5. The primary reason to say “Yes” is financial or ego driven.
  6. It feels heavy, or ominous, in my gut.

Any one of these situations will give me pause, and in this pause I give myself permission to take more time before I respond to the request. If after a few minutes I’m still wavering I go straight to #2 in my acid test. If what I’m being asked to do is not in alignment with my ethics, morals, or values, it’s an automatic “No.”

I’ve modified this acid test over the years but what I do know is that the only way to live anything close to a regret-free life is to live in alignment with your values. Otherwise you’re living someone else’s values, not your own. In the process of setting boundaries, I’ve come to realize that my values are my boundaries.’

Laura S Scott is a partner/facilitator with Key Women’s Leadership Forums, founder and president of 180 Coaching, a Resilience @ Work accredited provider, Conversational Intelligence® coach, and an executive and leadership coach and trainer.