Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On Leaning Out

There's been a lot of talk lately about Leaning In, a concept made popular by Sheryl Sandberg's book (y'all know this, I'm sure). It's been on my mind again, since she was a keynote speaker at BlogHer this year. For the most part, I am all for it. Reading the book didn't teach me much I didn't already know about workplace inequality, the need to support stay at home dads, and all the other wonderful feminist things I've been fortunate enough to be exposed to. But I understand that for a lot of women (and men), her message is a wakeup call.

But I don't want to talk about Leaning In right now. I want to talk about Leaning Out.

I spoke on a panel last night about setting boundaries: "When Yes People Need To Say No". It's part of the Organization Organizers Rockstar Roundtables (a series of monthly learning and development discussions that I help to organize), and I volunteered to speak on this one because I felt like I was awesome at saying no. I considered myself to be someone with years of experience in this area, ready to coach eager pupils in the art of setting and sticking to boundaries. "Hell yeah!" I cried to myself. "I can't wait to lay down some truth about boundaries!"

It was only after we started the planning process that I realized how terrible I actually am at this. I'm a "yes" person. I want to be a part of everything. I am overcommitted. I am currently battling a gnarly cold, no doubt the result of going to hard for too long. My calendar is full, and it stresses me out rather than making me feel blessed and excited. The truth is that while I may be pretty good at setting boundaries, I'm not so great on paying attention to my bandwidth.

So for the rest of the year, I am going to say no. I'm certainly not going to say yes to anything new. But I'm going to start actively saying no, without fear of disappointing someone (or myself). Or maybe with that fear, but an acknowledgement that it's ok to disappoint people sometimes.

What would I do if I wasn't afraid, Sheryl? I'd start saying no.

Do you feel powerful when you say no? Do you say no? Are you a yes-person?


  1. I appreciate balance and find some weeks I'm more No, others more Yes, depending on how I'm feeling mentally, physically, emotionally. I definitely embrace the power of No and the rest and rejuvenation it can bring so I can more fully say Yes to other things. In the information overload age it's easy to feel like we're missing out instead of prioritizing and appreciating saying No.

    I think it's probably something we are all in process with throughout our lives; wanting to be there for people and fun things but also not run ourselves ragged. And extroverts may tend to say Yes more than introverts.

  2. "In the information overload age it's easy to feel like we're missing out instead of prioritizing and appreciating saying No." Yes, this exactly. Exactly this.

    I think a balance is key. Right now my Yes-No scale is tipped far too heavily in the Yes direction. I need a whole lotta No's to get it back to some sort of equilibrium.

  3. I can relate to this! Big surprise, huh? I have had to repeat the mantra: "pause, make a mindful decision" over and over and over. Especially at work where my uncontrollable hand raises itself at every volunteer opportunity. I must sit on my hands! Time to give others a chance to step up.

  4. I like to ask, "Why am I saying yes? Is it because this is truly something I want to do, or because I will feel badly if I say no? What am I afraid of?"

  5. graceful wedding dress

  6. Interesting post... but I'm not sure that what Sandberg was getting at with the "lean in" concept was about saying yes to everything. She was referring to realizing what things to say yes to, and which are not worth the time and should be delegated or not done at all. Leaning in at work place discussions, walking up and introducing oneself to senior colleagues at conferences/meetings, these are not things that take extra time, just extra guts (you're at the conference anyway, right? just depends on how you want to get out of it). In fact, I'm pretty sure she would frown upon women becoming overly committed (maybe she talked about this, I'm not sure) to volunteer tasks but instead choosing wisely the ones that will have the biggest impact on their career. I've only recently started saying no to emails asking me to do things that won't move my career forward. It feels crappy because I'm a yes person to, but there are only so many hours in the day.

  7. Just feel Free :)

  8. Just read this post that's been going around, and thought I'd share:

  9. Sure, I know her overall concept is about stepping up to the place at work, in our careers, etc. and not about saying yes to everything. But that can definitely lead to feelings of "if I don't take advantage of this opportunity, I'm missing out" or "If I say no to that extra project, it will damage my career." I'm all for leaning in in the general sense - recognizing our value and sitting at the table and whatnot. And maybe it's because I'm traditionally such a yes person that I hear "lean in" and interpret it as "do more", but I think there is a counter-argument to the "we can have it all" mentality. I don't think we (or anyone) can "have it all" (and what does that even mean, really?), and it just puts a lot of pressure on us all. Personal interpretations being what they are, I read Lean In and was motivated to take on the world instead of just focusing in on a few key areas one at a time. I got into a "go go go" mindset, until I realized that saying yes to every opportunity, even if they all could potentially move my career forward, was saying yes to too much.

  10. I am definitely in this post. My husband calls me "Mother Teresa" because I'm always helping people. I don't really have a problem saying no, but I do walk away from helping people with an uncomfortable feeling sometimes. I've learned that helping others can heal, but it can also hurt us and the one's we love, when we over extend ourselves.

  11. I hear ya, Trina. It can be so hard to hold that uncomfortable feeling, when you want to help but know you can't (or shouldn't).

  12. yes it is hard when you want to help on certain things. You really don't know if you can"t (or you shouldn't)I don't like to step on peoples toes and I won't.

  13. We're all afraid, it's in our genes. There was a time when we were close to bottom of the food chain, so fear was even more necessary. The secret is to keep the fear rational. What the worst thing that can happen, can you handle that? The fear is diminished. Keep focusing on the awful and the fear grows in power.
    Sometimes it's smart to be afraid, it can save you from extreme harm.
    Say yes but to the things you believe in.

  14. Everyone is afraid to say no to someone. It just depends on the circumstances. I was terrible at saying no to every one my entire life until I realized that I was so stressed out I couldn't even sleep, even after putting in an average of 60 hours a week at a very busy Emergency Department in a very busy neighborhood in a large city. 2 Full time jobs later and caring for a very sick and demanding parent I took a look at myself in the mirror and did not recognize myself. That was the day I started to say no to co-workers to cover their shifts; no I could not contribute 4 hours to the Xmas bazaar, no not even 2 hours. No I cannot pick you up from the airport, take a cab, no I cannot take you to the train get on the bus. I(t comes as a shock to those who are used to you saying yes all the time but eventually they realize Hey she's tired and busy. Depend on yourself to take you where you want to go. Plan ahead and compensate.

  15. then lean to the side.

  16. Haha, I like that. Lean to the side! :)

    Thanks for commenting!

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  18. Interesting. You guys were talking about me. Jeez! I learned to say NO at 50! Sad but the truth. One thing I don't regret about saying yes is that I did it with an open heart, mind and soul with a passion. I said yes to everyone in my family, distant relatives, my in laws and friends and church. I could sometime live on credit to accommodate a yes. Very sad. Even when my wife told me she was leaving me and my marriage, I said YES! Even after leaving me with kids, I still allowed her to withdraw from the bank account. Not until she took a lump sum out and closed the account did I realize what saying YES as a generosity can do. It coated me our home I built from scratch. Life can be a challenge when we don't do the right thing at the right time , simply because we stuck at yes. I never took a vocation for myself until this summer when I learned to say NO! It is amazing how powerful and strong you can be when you learn the power of NO in your life. Thank you Kim, am a strong man now. I have regained my life making this transition. Say NO when it means NO and allude to yes when you able to without regrets.

  19. ,,.- ahojky ono toto je skvělé , bavtese .- pracujte , i si hrajte s radostí , láskou a to ve jměnu dobra a především pozitivního myšlení a pak se vám to určíte v r á t í v d ob r é m ..-

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  21. you should say no