Saying No – A Workaholic’s Transformation Story
The First Inflection Point
“Would you like a seat on the board of directors? We have an opening for a member at large.”
I replied without thinking.
That was my instinct and go-to. To say yes to anything that was asked of me.
I was sitting at an annual general meeting for an organization I was interested in and I had just agreed to become a member of their board. It never occurred to me that I had no idea what that meant and that I had never been on a board of directors before. Heck, this was the first time I had ever attended an annual general meeting for something.
They had asked and I had said yes. Isn’t that what everyone does in that situation?
That’s when it happened – the first inflection point that would plant the seed to change my direction. I just didn’t know it yet.
The gentleman to my left was asked the same question as me – but he didn’t immediately respond yes. He told them he would have to consider his current commitments to see if it would be a good fit.
He never did join the board.
I didn’t think anything of it at the time, just carried on with the meeting.
I ended up sitting on that board of directors for 3 more years. Eventually moving from member at large to secretary.
It took me 3 years to learn how to remove myself from that situation.
Yes. Absolutely. Sure, I can do that. I can help with that.
Those were all words that constantly came out of my mouth. If someone asked me to help with something I always said yes. Even if I wasn’t asked I would often offer to help out where I could.
I thought that’s what everyone did. Isn’t the golden rule to treat everyone how you want to be treated? I would just agree to help anyone and everyone because in my mind that’s what other people did too. I didn’t know how to say no.
Where did this instinct come from?
Maybe it was from my parents. They were always willing to help out with things when they could.
Maybe it was from the fact that I am a middle child. I would always try to keep the peace between my sisters by offering to do things or help them out.
Or maybe it was because I am inherent people pleaser. I’ve always thought my life’s purpose was to help people. Unfortunately, in doing so I didn’t realize how much I wasn’t helping myself.
As a teenager I decided that my 2 ultimate goals in life were to help people and to travel. Whenever I had a big decision to make I always referred back to my calling to help people and to travel.
My ultimate life goals influenced by university decisions and eventual career choice. I was lucky enough to find a job that enabled me to both help people and travel.
My first career was in a job that I loved and was passionate about. I loved it so much that I took every opportunity it offered. As it was not a typical 9-5 job the hours were sporadic and included evenings and weekends.
Often times I would have to work multiple jobs at one time just to support myself. I didn’t care though because I was doing a job I loved. Or so I thought.
This pursuit of blind passion lead to a love of work that included working upwards of 70 hours a week at times. It wasn’t enough that I worked one job. Sometimes I would work 3 jobs at a time.
Again, it didn’t bother me because I “loved” what I was doing. I never once stopped to think what I was doing, I just “knew” that I loved it.
Becoming a Workaholic
So I worked and worked and worked. And without realizing it, became a workaholic.
On some level it made things easier. As an introvert it helped that I never had to think about a social life. Having no social life also helps when saving money. I didn’t really have time to go out and spend money.
Sure I had friends but only would see them randomly when our schedules magically aligned. Or we would have to schedule meet ups months in advance in order to find a time that worked for us.
Another benefit was the income. Unfortunately, my career of choice was not very high paying. Working multiple jobs and living quite frugally helped me be able to save a substantial amount of my income.
This created a sort of positive feedback loop. As a natural saver, I loved watching my bank account grow. The more I worked, the more it grew, the more I wanted to work.
But hey, I “loved” my job so what else mattered?
The Second Inflection Point
During all the years I was a workaholic I somehow managed to fall in love with and marry the man of my dreams.
In the beginning of our marriage we had set some fairly lofty financial goals. I continued to work 3 jobs and he picked up overtime whenever he could. At one point we lived in separate cities for months while both of us worked.
He would come home for 48-72 hours every 2 weeks.
During the times he was gone I would lose myself in work.
When he came home it was like we were dating all over again.
Eventually he quit his out of town job and got something closer to home. It didn’t pay as well but he was home which was important.
I continued to work and work and work because I “loved” my job. My husband was supportive of my blind pursuit of passion. Until he wasn’t.
As newlyweds we had already gone through a period of time of being apart and now that he was home, all I did was work. I never thought about the impact being a workaholic had.
Then I came home from work late after working 14 hours to my husband telling me that something had to change.
That’s when it hit me!
Without ever thinking, I had let work almost ruin the best thing that ever happened to me.
I “loved” a job that didn’t love me back.
Saying No for the First Time
After a lot of tears, we hashed a plan. I would finish up some of the commitments that I already had and then eventually scale back to only 1 full time job. This was not an easy decision.
Unfortunately, the job I thought I was most passionate about was not my full time job. After 8 years of working at my “dream job” I decided to give my notice. This lead to a massive identity crisis. This was the job that I had had the longest. The one I was known for.
Without that job who would I be?
At first I was very bitter. I loved that job and resented the fact that I walked away from it.
As time went on I gained more clarity and had an epiphany.
My job didn’t define me.
I was still the same person I was before I said no to renewing my contract. I just had more personal time.
A funny thing happened after saying no. I realized that my “dream job” was in fact causing me more stress than benefit. In my blind pursuit of travel and desire to help people I had forgot about helping myself.
With my increase in time I now had the desire to reconnect with friends. I started to enjoy my full time job more (and still work at it to this day).
I gave myself permission to think (and dream) about what I wanted my life to look like. When I thought about this, it did not include working 70 hours a week for someone else.
I wanted to have a family. Working so much created so much stress in my life that having a family was near impossible.
Saying No in Order to Say Yes
Somewhere along my journey I learned that saying yes to something meant saying no to everything else.
A perfect example of this was when we were looking for our new home. As soon as we said yes to a property we were essentially saying no to all the other properties out there. Knowing this we were very picky and patiently waited for the perfect place to come onto the market.
I’m learning to be pickier and patient with opportunities as well. By saying no I’m giving myself the freedom and room to breathe. To truly pursue passion projects.
It has now been over 5 years since I left my previous “dream job.” Although I couldn’t see it at the time, it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I am now firmly on the path to financial freedom and have a plan to achieve financial independence within the next decade.
Working those 70 hour weeks was limiting my earning potential to the amount of hours I worked.
Saying no opened up so many other doors for me. Now I have the time to do things that are accelerating my path to financial independence.
It’s not easy and I’m not perfect. I don’t say no to everything. I still say yes a lot.
There are still times when I regret saying yes to things. When that happens I try to learn as much as I can from the situation and make adjustments going forward.
Lessons on Saying No
Here are some things that have helped me in saying no:
- Realize that by saying no you open yourself up to all the other opportunities
- Saying yes to something and not being able to fulfill your commitment is selfish (and is worse than saying no)
- Being aware of your priorities helps you to align your actions with them
- Saying no isn’t a bad thing
- Ask yourself, does saying yes align with your priorities and goals?
Here are some of the ways in which I say no:
- “Regrettably, I do not have the time to help you with that right now”
- “Unfortunately, I cannot commit the time that that project deserves”
- “Saying yes to this would mean saying no to time with my family and I’m not comfortable with that”
- “Is there another way that I may be able to help you that doesn’t require as much of my time?”
- “I cannot help you with this but know someone who may be more suited”
It took me hitting rock bottom and jeopardizing my marriage for me to first learn how to say no. And it was not easy.
I now consider myself a recovering workaholic.
Being more conscious of my decisions has given me the freedom to say no and yes to opportunities and projects that excite me.
As a new momma, saying no to certain things it getting much easier. And so is saying yes to extra cuddles, family walks and reading books with my little one.
Thinking back to that first inflection point, I now realize that the man at that meeting valued his time more than I valued mine. I never wanted to be on that board of directors but didn’t know how to say no. That small inadvertent interaction is one I often reflect back.
I am learning to be more cautious with my time. I now realize how precious it is and refuse to just give it away anymore.
Money potential is limitless, time is finite.
Questions to Ponder
What are you ready to say no to in your life?
What in your life are you doing that is not fulfilling your priorities and goals?
Are you like I was and are just mindlessly going through life?
Say no to one small thing this week. Then take some time to reflect on how it made you feel.