One of the books on my must-read list for 2020 was F**k No by Sarah Knight. I finished reading this a couple of weeks back and now that I have had some time to digest, I have taken the time for reflecting on its impact and whether I do indeed feel more comfortable saying ‘Heeeeeell, no!’ 

I hadn’t previously read any of Knight’s other books, but as I frequently struggle with saying ‘no’, this was indeed a must-read for me. When I saw it on a quick run through the train station I had to grab it and start reading it straight away on the inevitably delayed train (finally one benefit to travelling by Northern Rail).

And the book did make me think. Though a lot of the book’s content is stuff you kinda already know, it is the type of book that is good to read just to hammer home that IT IS OKAY TO SAY NO and give you some strategies to do so.

I have indeed said no to a couple of things since and been more aware that I am doing so, or at least more intentional in the process. But last week I found myself in a mire of chaos; my brain whirring due to the amount of work I have on, two new requests that landed in my inbox, a guilt trip from another ‘client’ who I had tried to put back but he was not having it, and a list as long as my arm of other things I want to do. And all that before adding in the minutiae of life, like cleaning, eating and sleeping.

Therefore, I realised I am still not saying no enough. Nowhere near enough.

Why should we say no? 

I would be so annoyed with myself if someone wasn’t happy with my work because I had stretched myself too thin and not given a project the attention it deserved.

I did do this fairly recently, and luckily, after I gave a profuse apology, I pulled it back and I have gone on to do more work with the company. It was a learning curve and something I am now very wary of. I just had too many things to juggle and as a result, I didn’t give one job the level of detail I should. It was a rare situation, where two projects collided with no room for manoeuvre in either, but as both projects knew I was working on others, instead of taking it all on and just ploughing on, I can see now that I should have explained the sheer impossibility of the task. But I’m a people-pleaser. So I wanted it to work.

There are moments in life when you should say no – whether it is due to money, health, family, time, other commitments, the budget for a project or – shock horror – just cos you fecking want to.

You don’t have to do all the things, and sometimes it is good to say no to reinforce that you don’t like going to watch the football, babysit a neighbours kids, give a friend a lift somewhere well out of your way – or in my case create a PowerPoint ‘design’, or do a job for 50p – and don’t keep getting asked to do so.

Once you’ve said yes once, the expectation is always there. Once you’ve said no the first time, it gets much easier.

Or who I am told.

Why is it so hard? 

As a self-employed minion, you can never guarantee where and when your next paycheck is coming in, or sometimes even how much work can be given when contracted in or on retainer. You can’t even guarantee a customer will pay your invoice when you have done the work for crying out loud.

Ergo, there is a tendency to over-promise and think ‘I’ll fit it in somehow’ cos you need the readies. And at times that can work. But if you did that all the time… the consequences could be quite bad, not just on your reputation, but your health and wellbeing.

At the beginning of the book, there was an exercise to find out what personality type you are, as this provides some clue as to your reasons why you cannot say no. I was quite surprised at first as I came up as mostly a people pleaser, with a side salad of overachiever, but this is true (I thought I would be more of a FOMO’er). Don’t get me wrong, I got points across the board of the four types, but people pleaser and overachiever were definitely in the lead.

I always have the fear of someone being upset or frustrated with me if I say no and carry a belief that it will be much less painful to say yes and just do what I have to do to whatever the personal consequences, rather than say no and put the burden on others.

What does it take to say no? 

There are a few personality traits which help in our resolve to stick to our guns:

Assertiveness – to say it and stick with it, no matter how many begging puppy dog eyes, bribes or outright moans you receive.
Tact – to say it in the right way and medium.
Perseverance – to stick with your response even if the other person takes it badly, or to find a middle ground and see it through.
Adaptable – to suggest an alternative plan or person that can help. The other party is less likely to be a pain in your ass if you can suggest someone else that can help.
Self-belief – that you are right to say no in the situation. And you are! Most of the time.
Trust – that the other party will not be a tool and fall out with you because you don’t want to go to the party and drink Jaegerbombs til your liver packs its bags and leaves home. Or to take on the project that will result in you working 23 hour days with only a 20-minute power nap and 2 loo breaks per day for the next month.

What else did I learn? 

Here are some snippets.

You don’t have to give reasons
Seriously! I am always the first to add a strong of reasons/excuses onto an answer, but you don’t have to. But if you would like some ready to go, the book does provide some you can have ready in your armour.

You do have a choice
I am the master of feeling like I do not. But in reality what is going to happen if you do say no? Is the world going to end? Nope, not likely. Even if the other person has a grump at you, is it that terminal? You’ll be out of their bad books soon enough when they want another job doing.

Responding promptly with a no is much more warmly appreciated than a delayed yes
Consider that colleague whose wedding you have been invited to. You don’t want to go and leave it to the last day (or later hoping they will work it out for themselves). Meanwhile, the stressed bride is wanting final numbers for the venue. And you respond to say yes because you feel you have to, 2 days after she has chased for your response. If you had just said no straight away, you could have all moved on and it would have been forgotten.

Declining a favour does not make you unkind
We have numerous reasons to say no and it does not make you mean because you say no. This one can sometimes require an explanation to keep relationships in tip-top shape (unless it is preferred otherwise), but it can be brief “ No sorry, it’s not good timing for me”, “No sorry, I haven’t the spare cash at the moment”. If it is a frequent request, you may need to go in harder “Sorry, I have a policy not to lend anyone money”.

Stop kicking yourself with guilt
I repeatedly ruminate on conversations, and will particularly do so when I feel I should have done something differently. So my next step is to take a look at how I can stop kicking myself with guilt after uttering that two-letter trapdoor of ‘no’.

Overall verdict

>4 out of 5: Pun-tactic food for thought

If you love a pun this is certainly a book for you. It is packed to the rafters (or spine?) with no-puns. 

Knights’ style is engaging and certainly relatable. I suspect her books mostly follow a similar format, which I can see the advantages for unless it becomes too repetitive. This book certainly references her first, main book a lot – ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k’.

I think I will certainly give the other book a try as it has been on my radar for some time – I hadn’t actually realised all these offshoots existed. But I do like that there are books for all different types of not giving a f**k and so you can choose your niche. After all us, freelancers love a good niche.

If you like a down-to-earth self-help book, Knight could be the author for you.

Write 52: Week 32
Theme: A few of my favourite things