Learn to say “no”

Yesterday, I gave nine hours to a work project. This seems reasonable, except that I’m off for the summer.

By “off” I mean I don’t get paid.

I have a second employer during the summer, and that employer is me. I am a writer in addition to being a teacher. During the school year I teach full-time and write part-time. During the summer, my contract with self is to write full-time and read as many books as I can digest (for both work and the writing craft) when I hit detours in the writing regiment.

But so far…23 days into my summer job…there is little to show my summer employer for my efforts.

If I don’t shape up, I’m going to fire me.

In a moment yesterday that was especially convicting, a colleague said, “You know, you had just finished telling me you were going to set better boundaries when I watched you volunteer for this project.”

So clearly the problem is my inability to say “no” or to at least keep my hand down when someone is asking for volunteers.


Last summer…on a writing detour and in an effort to get my head straight again…I read Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less. It fired me up on saying “no.” Why? Because I want to make my highest contribution on one or two things, not scatter my talents and efforts so broadly that the seeds never root deep and grow.

Therefore and henceforth, I vow to have a hearty “Come to Jesus” with myself.

Here’s a LinkedIn post by Greg from 2013: How to Say No Gracefully. Read it if you need a “Come to Jesus” too. I especially loved his story of E.B. White, who reportedly wrote in a letter in 1956:

“Thanks for your letter inviting me to join the committee of the Arts and Sciences for Eisenhower. I must decline, for secret reasons. Sincerely, E.B.White”

You have to respect a man like that. I’d hire him if he was still alive and looking for a summer job.