One of the things I needed to do this year was learn how to say no.
As a freelancer, I find it difficult to turn down assignments. In all the years I’ve been freelancing (and I’ve been a freelancer for a long time, from the time my daughter was born, and she turned 21 back in December), you could count the number of times I turned down assignments on one hand.
But so far this year, I’ve turned down several assignments – more than I’ve done in all my previous years as a freelancer combined. The easiest were those that offered a fee far less than I usually charge. The hardest were the ones from favourite clients, people I enjoy working with. I’ve also had one failed attempt, where I said I could, but the deadline had to be extended by a few weeks. Unfortunately, my client did exactly that.
In previous years, I would have just said “yes” to all of them, and then did the whole grin and bear it thing while I slogged through all the deadlines. But I’m finding I can’t do that any more. I seem to get burnout a lot quicker these days. And I can’t seem to handle the stress of too much work very well now, either. My back hurts, or my neck hurts, or my stomach hurts, or my head hurts.
My body’s been trying to tell me something.
And I feel like I’m finally listening. Yes, it’s taken me a while.
When 2015 came I said I was going to stop the insanity of continuing to do the same things and expecting a different outcome. Learning to say no is part of the process. There are other steps to be taken: with the type of work I’m doing, it’s often feast or famine. But I’ve mentioned before, I’ve noticed things smoothing out over the past two to three years. When I look back, I see that the “famine” periods have been more like dinner, or lunch, or sometimes, a snack. Never just a coffee, though.
And there are things I can do to continue this trend away from famine periods. It does feel counter-intuitive to me sometimes, but turning down assignments when my schedule’s already filled to the brim is the first step. Doing so let’s me keep my health, my sanity, my energy, so that when the deadlines slow down, I have the ability to focus on getting new clients, getting new work, launching new ventures.
Saying “no” is hard. But I’m finding I learn a little something more each time I do.