When Asked, Don’t Panic: Just Say “I’ll think about it.” Then say No.



Last week I was asked to serve on the board of the local chapter of the psychological association as president-elect. They were in a bind because the president-elect they thought they had couldn’t finish her term. I rather liked being called in to be the pinch hitter. Sort of like the runner up to Miss America. But before I accepted the position I did some thinking. *Dissolve to flash back*

Ten years ago I picked up the phone in my kitchen. The president of the psychological association at the time was a friend of mine. She asked if I would take the same post. Over the phone she said it wasn’t a big deal; you reside over some meetings, facilitate projects, blah blah blah. The feeling I had as I listened to her wasn’t honor or pride. It was pure panic. My children were little, my parents were living with me, my husband was going through a rough time at work, I had a chronic illness, I had a job… Maybe this sounds familiar?

I could not possibly do one more thing without dissolving into a tiny pile of ashes and blowing away. And yet I thought about it!

Finally I did the right thing and turned down the position. I told my friend I would serve as president some day but not now. What I remember was the guilt I felt saying No. Can you believe it? I am no martyr, believe me, so what the heck?!

*Dissolve to further flash back* Fifteen years ago my family enjoyed a neighborhood block party. Picture this: A lovely autumn day, the leaves bright oranges, yellows and reds falling like snow flakes. The kids ride their decorated bikes, play in the bouncy house and eat homemade cookies while parents smile and drink beer.

The supermom who always pulled the block party together got everyone’s attention. She announced that this was her last year as block party coordinator. She decided the best way to find the next coordinator was to have a raffle! She took it upon herself to throw everyone’s (meaning of course all the women’s) names in a hat for a drawing. Isn’t this fun?

Oh. My. God. Panic! Somehow I knew my name was going to be called. I was going to be embarrassed in front of the entire neighborhood when I said No. And that’s exactly what happened. It was awful. Looking back, why didn’t I get mad? I mean, the nerve of this woman, right? But no, instead I felt the familiar guilt that I was letting my neighborhood down because I couldn’t do it all. Somehow I managed to say No although I apologized a LOT as I said it.

*Flash forward to the present.* A few days ago I accepted the president-elect position calmly and confidently. Next year I will be a new empty nester in need of a diversion. My parents passed away many years ago, my husband and I both have work that is hard but fulfilling. The time is right.

There was an article in the Sunday paper about Hillary Clinton being passionate about taking an entire year off. Imagine having days and days before you without responsibility or obligation, guilt free! After decades of service you can watch all the episodes of ‘Love It or List It!’ you want (apparently a Hillary favorite) and sleep until Noon.

We don’t all have to be a former First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State to deserve a sabbatical. Every one of us who ever raised a child, cared for elderly parents, nursed our own health, sustained a job, served as a community volunteer, put dinner on the table, did our bit as a good partner – all of us deserve our time to refresh.

So no more guilt when you need to say No! Listen to your inner voice. If it sounds at all stressed or panicked when someone asks you to do “one more thing” say No first and ask questions later. Or at the very least say a polite “I’ll think about it.”

Then say No.

If that’s too hard for you then give me a call and we’ll learn to say No together.

6 comments


  • SD

    Congratulations!!! You will be a great President. :)

    2012/11/13
    • Thanks, SD! I will do my best.

      2012/11/13
  • Hello Dr. A – this is a fantastic reminder that “NO!” is a complete sentence.

    Yet I’ve spent much of my adult life saying YES! to things that I didn’t really want to do. For example, many years ago, I realized that I was letting other people dictate my social calendar. When they asked “Are you free on Friday?” for example, I’d say “YES!” if my calendar happened to be blank on that particular date/time, and before you know it, I was on my way to something I didn’t really feel like going to, often with people I didn’t really feel like being with. How on earth did I let this happen?

    Then somebody gave me this wise advice: on your purse calendar, the week-at-a-glance kind, write the word “NO!” on the top of each page. Then, when somebody asks “Are you free on Friday?” you simply say “I don’t know – let me check my calendar” – and there in big bold caps you find the word “NO!” Doesn’t mean you must say NO! to everything, of course, but it’s a useful reminder simply to pause and ask if this demand on your time is what really works for you right now.

    This must have been about the same time I decided that from then on, I was only going to volunteer in beautiful places.

    That decision came after decades of serving on steering committees and boards of directors and event planning groups (if you’re a PR person, every organization wants you on their volunteer team!) But this always meant more meetings (often evening meetings, after a long day at work filled with meetings!) But in general, I HATE MEETINGS! So why was I voluntarily sacrificing any of the very precious few leisure hours I have left on this earth by saying YES to more meetings? Duh….

    That was the year I first started volunteering at a lovely heritage garden as a tour guide, where at the end of every crazy-busy week, I got to spend a few hours in a quiet and spectacularly gorgeous piece of nature, meet people from all over the world, and share the fascinating history of the gardens.

    I still continued to receive regular requests for my volunteer time on boards and committees, but just asking myself “Is this a beautiful place?” meant it became a whole lot easier to say “NO!” if the demand on my time didn’t meet that one simple criterion.

    Thanks again for sharing such timely and wise anecdotes to powerfully prove a point.

    2012/12/01
    • Dear Carolyn,

      Once again you made my day. This, my dear, is a blog post! With your permission I am going to reprint your comment as an article. I think it is a great Christmas/Hanukkah gift for all of us. Thank you!

      2012/12/01
  • [...] November: When Asked, Don’t Panic. Just Say “I’ll Think About It.” Then Say “No…. [...]

    2012/12/30
  • […] Play a little defense. Say No. Start small. Turn down an invitation to join a committee when you already have too much on your plate. Say no thank you. Repeat as needed. […]

    2013/11/04

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