Have you read "Yes Man"? It's a lovely idea, and I'm all for saying yes to more exciting opportunities. Most of us could probably do with more adventure in our lives. The problem is that many of us say no to the good things, and yes to the bad things. If you say "yes" to everything that comes your way, you might have the time of your life, fall in love or land your dream job. But, of course, there are times when saying "yes" could lead to trouble.
Some of them are obvious. If somebody offers your heroin, asks if you'd like to spend thousands of pounds/dollars on a chocolate teapot or suggests you go skydiving without a parachute, then I'm hoping that most of you are wise enough to turn it down. You don't need me to give you a "No to drugs" speech, or to patronise you with common sense - you're a smart, lovely person! Actually, I really admire your conscientious, hard-working nature. So, would you mind just working a couple of extra hours on Saturday for me? I have to look after my sick cousin, you see, and we really need someone to cover it or the company will be in big trouble...
Oops, sorry, I got off track. But did that sound familiar? How about this one?
"You're the only person qualified for this - we would love to have you on board! Unfortunately the job is unpaid for now. It would be best you were free five or six days a week..."
"Hey, my babysitter just called in sick at the last second. I've made plans, so I would really appreciate it if you could come over for a few hours and look after my screaming brats."
If you enjoy helping others, feel that your friends/company/family would fall apart without you, or just want to boost your career by winning over your boss of filling your CV with volunteer work, it can be hard to turn down requests like those. They're usually accompanied by a compliment, boosting your ego and making you more likely to say yes, or pleading - the thought that only you can help out. By appealing to your inner superhero, these people are (perhaps unwittingly) taking advantage of your caring nature, or playing on the fact that you are trying to give yourself a step up on the career ladder.
Of course you shouldn't always refuse to help out your friends, and voluntary work can be a wonderful thing to do. My problem is that I don't know when to stop, and I get trapped in a kind of vicious circle. It usually goes like this:
1. I'm quite bored, and would like something to take up a bit more of my time.
2. I talk to people, look into projects that I can get involved in, ask my company for more hours.
3. Suddenly, offers are popping up everywhere. Extra hours, extra responsibilities, favours for friends, volunteering. I accept everything at once.
4. I take a look at my schedule and wonder when I'm going to have time to work on my life coaching, my writing, even when I'll spend quality time with my fiancé and friends, when I'll be able to relax.
5. I freak out a little and cancel/quit a bunch of them, making me feel like a flake, and potentially letting people down even more than I would had I just said no in the first place.
This pattern has repeated itself for me over and over for years. My friends and parents have even said to me - "You need to learn when to say no to things!". It can be so hard to know what to turn down, so I've finally compiled a little list of things I ask myself when I'm asked to work more hours or help somebody out. Try asking yourself the same questions, and see how you feel about it then.
Am I really the only person who can help out here?
Will doing this make me happier?
Will this person appreciate/like me more if I do this? Why is that important to me?
Is this person likely to help me out in a similar situation?
Will this really help me career-wise, or just make me look like a pushover?
Think of how much more time and energy you would have to spend working on your projects if you learnt how to be OK with saying no, and find out how much more respect you can gain if you learn when to turn down offers.
I recently agreed to stage manage a show for a friend. I really wanted to (and still want) more "theatre" in my life, but the commitment was for almost every night for two months. At first, I thought I could handle it, but when I realised that I was also trying to start a business and plan my wedding in my spare time (as well as having enough to actually spend with said future husband), I had to be really honest with myself. They made it sound as if I was the only one with enough experience to really help them out, and while this appealed to my ego and sense of duty, I had to take a deep breath and bail on them. Sure, I felt guilty, but they managed just fine without me in the end, and I was SO glad of the extra time.
I'm slowly getting over my addiction! Although I'll still say yes to a few extra hours here and there, my mother always says "everything in moderation", so a little bit might be OK...