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Stop Saying ‘Yes’ to All the Things

Written By Janessa Knodt | Sep 20, 2017

I was on a plane recently, flying home from Chicago. It was evening and I was exhausted & ready to relax, so I ordered a cocktail. The copy on the cocktail napkin read, “In a world full of no, we’re a plane full of yes”. It really struck me, because I’ve always been the person who says ‘yes’ to everything. It’s been my greatest strength, leading to a rich, colorful life. And it’s been my greatest downfall, leading me into many a shit storm.

In my early thirties, I owned my own flower shop. It was a sweet, tiny storefront on a busy street in an up-and-coming neighborhood in Chicago. I sold flowers, cards, and gifts, but the thing keeping the doors open and the lights on was wedding floral design. The wedding industry is seasonal in Chicago on account of the frigid winds and lake effect snow all winter, so I basically needed to book weddings almost every weekend during spring, summer, and fall in order to stay in business. And let me tell you, I did.

I said ‘yes’ to every. single. wedding. request. that came my way. Big, small, in my design style or not, I said yes. I thought I had to, financially! I booked 75 weddings my first year in the shop. If you figure those all happened between May and November, that’s a lot of f*&king weddings each weekend! But I. Said. Yes.

Do you feel like you take almost any job that comes your way, in times of feast and famine alike?

Labor Day weekend was always the craziest. One year I had six weddings in one weekend, and it was just myself and two designers, one of whom had to stay behind to keep the shop open.

It took four extra freelancers and three u-haul cargo vans, and I got maybe two hours of sleep all weekend, but we got ‘er done.

At one point, though, I distinctly remember standing in an aisle at Michael’s Arts & Crafts (a very important vase had broken in transit) and I was going to be late delivering the flowers. I developed hives and started getting pains in my left arm. It wasn’t normal, and it wasn’t okay!

I only write about my experiences as a small business florist because I’ve found so many parallels between those days and my more recent days as a freelance writer. I still say yes to everything, whether it’s good for me or not. And if you’re a self-employed freelancer in the creative industry, chances are you’re a lot like me in that respect. Do you feel like you take almost any job that comes your way, in times of feast and famine alike?

Here’s why that’s bad:

1. It’s Bad for Your Portfolio
If you’re taking any and every job that comes your way, you’re most likely working on a lot of pieces you don’t necessarily want on display in your body of work. We all have to make a dollar, but by spending a good portion of your time on jobs you won’t share for future business-getting, you’re actually hurting yourself in the long run.

2. You Encourage Repeat Business—But Not Necessarily the Kind You Want
If you say yes to a job you know you probably don’t want in your portfolio, and you’re a half-decent person with integrity and a solid work ethic, you’ll probably still give it your all and do a good job.

If you do a good job, a client will come back to you again and again. Whether you want them to or not.

If you do that, that client will come back to you again and again, whether you want them to or not. Next thing you know, working for them takes up the majority of your time, keeping you from being able to put your best efforts into other jobs you’d actually love to have in your portfolio.

You want to say no, but you feel stuck, obligated, and the money’s been nice. NO. DON’T DO IT.

3. It’s Bad for Your Health
Say you’ve been working on a whole variety of jobs (because you keep saying yes to all the fricking things) and some of them are choice pieces and some are not. Now you’re in trouble. There are clichés for this situation. Awful clichés like “burning the candle at both ends” or “spread too thin”. Don’t be part of those clichés. They mean you’re hurting yourself physically and mentally. You’re eating take-out for every meal, sitting all day and all night at a computer desk, hunched over, building up a massive spare tire and well on your way to heart disease. And don’t even get me started on the sleep issue. You need more than you’re getting if you keep saying yes to everything. Trust me, you do.

4. It’s Bad for Your Relationships
When you say yes to everything, you are essentially insane. Because even if you’re the most confident, capable person on earth, NOBODY can do everything all the time. It’s not sustainable. Something’s gotta get shortchanged.

Awful clichés like “burning the candle at both ends” or “spread too thin”.

In my experience, it was relationships. Romantic, platonic, and family. I began to forget birthdays and anniversaries, lost touch with friends, missed every party. My social life became confined to social media, which ain’t no way to live.

5. It’s Bad for Business
The thing about doing all the things all the time, is it’s not sustainable. Even the cockiest “I can do eet!” freelancers with the best time management skills around will eventually slip. They’ll miss a deadline, or send something to the client that’s half-baked. This is inevitable. And if it happens too often, you’ll start to get branded as incapable or unreliable, which is contrary to everything you’ve been trying to accomplish in the first place. Screw that! Especially when you’ve just worked your ass off, survived on Chinese takeout for two weeks straight, and pissed off your mom because you forgot her birthday. No. No no no.

It’s a simple fact that you regret most of the bad jobs you did take, not the ones you didn’t.

The good news is, you were born with the god-given right to say NO. It’s totally an option! It’s liberating, even! Every time I have wanted to say no to to anyone or anything—personal or professional—and I have agonized and agonized and finally gotten up the balls and said it, I’ve been so happy I did. It’s a simple fact that you regret most of the bad jobs you did take, not the ones you didn’t. There are some really great ways to gracefully decline (charging what you’re actually worth being one of them) and if you do just listen to your gut and follow through, you’ll find you’re driving your career, instead of the other way around.

And after all, isn’t that what being a freelancer is all about? So go forth, friends, and say no. You’re gonna love it.

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