Just Don’t Do It

Nora Isaacs learns that when it comes to maintaining a healthy life balance, she needs to say "no" sometimes.

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by Nora Isaacs

Last week, I successfully completed an assignment. I did everything I was contractually obligated to do. A few days later, the client called me, asking me to add on a “just a few more things.” I took a deep breath. I knew this wouldn’t mean more money—just more stress. I so wanted to be agreeable, be a team player. Yet I knew I was too busy with other paid work. I knew it meant that instead of relaxing with my family, I’d be working at night, again.

I said no.

I have a new mantra: Just Don’t Do It. It’s the anti-Nike slogan, a call to stop going for it and to reign it in. When it comes to achieving the ever-elusive thing called work/life balance, it just might be the most valuable four words.

Why is it so hard to say no? I asked Oakland, California, leadership coach Anna Scott this question. “We all have an unconscious agenda to be safe and to be liked,” she said.

Saying no is scary. It means we are taking a risk: the person on the other end might not like us. They might think we are selfish and disagreeable. And saying no threatens our basic sense of safety: We might be putting our jobs, and in turn our livelihood, at risk.

These things are real. Yet they also threaten to topple our carefully calibrated work/life balance. As we become more consumed by gadgets and technology, as the economy teeters, as we feel more and more pressed to “succeed” (whatever that means), it’s easy to choose this unconscious agenda over balance. But at what cost?

After saying no to my client, I felt afraid. But soon my fear turned to relief and empowerment. I know that a couple of dozen no's could lead to a big change. I know that sometimes we start small, but we can find new and creative ways to reinvent our lives. Less harried, more serene. Less anxious, more grateful.

It just might start with the simple word, no.

Nora Isaacs, author of Women In Overdrive: Find Balance and Overcome Burnout at Any Age and a former editor at Yoga Journal, is a mother of two and a freelance writer in Berkeley, California. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.