The Importance of Saying “No”

by Naomi Gonzales

The Importance of Saying “No”

I want to preface this piece by saying this is not an article on negativity, but taking care of yourself.

We live in a very “yes”-oriented culture. A professional world where “sure I can do that”, and “I’ll take care of it” are phrases that abound because somehow, somewhere it became ingrained in us that the busier we are, the better.

In a lot of ways, this is true. When we’re busy, things get done, time goes by more quickly, tasks are accomplished and everyone feels good about their work. The organization you work for is happy and you’re happy because, yay—productivity! Right?

Not always.

I graduated with my MLS nearly five years ago*, and nearly every work day for the first two was an exercise in proving to my employers that I am totally capable of not only doing my job but also taking on anything else they could ask of me. I wanted to be busy all the time, and darn it, I was. I was so busy that at times it permeated my personal life too, and I started working on things when I wasn’t on the clock. When asked if I could take care of something, the answer was always an emphatic YES, no matter how underprepared I felt or what else was on my plate. In a lot of ways, this wasn’t a bad thing, especially because I really liked my job. I liked the work I was doing and felt good about having so much of it to do.

Fast forward a few months and, to no one’s surprise, I am burned out and overwhelmed (hint, this is where the word “no” comes into play).

It was at this point that my boss graciously sat me down and informed me that before anything else, I should take care of myself. If that meant politely turning something down, or (gasp!) asking for help, then I should by all means do those things. I was expected to work and pull my weight, but not at the expense of my own health. I realize that not everyone is as fortunate to have a supervisor feel that way, but her words are probably some of the truest things anyone can be told.

If you’re anything like me, you tend to be the person that other people need before you are anything for yourself. Although this might be good for other people and can give you a certain sense of satisfaction, it’s also really not great for your well-being. It’s important to remember that sometimes the best thing you can do for your health is to give yourself a break. Hey, I don’t like feeling as though I’ve let someone down or dropped a ball either but at the end of the day, I’d rather be my best at something and see it done well. If I’m exhausted and working on too many projects, there’s a good chance I’m going to drop a ball anyway.

Maybe it is the eternal optimist in me, but I truly believe that if we can get to the point where we can comfortably say “No, that won’t be possible at this time” or “I’m not in the place to do that right now” with our health in mind, we’ll be a lot healthier as a whole. The chance to stop and catch your breath will do wonders for your ability to move forward. Your co-workers will understand, your friends will understand. After all, life is too short to be overworked and stressed all the time.

Instead, take a page from Skeletor’s book:


(image courtesy of

previously published 12/16/14 and 11/28/15

  • previously said “nearly three years ago,” but updated to reflect the reposting in 2017