No is a word that I struggled with.  I wouldn’t describe myself as a people pleaser by nature but for years I had a tendency to say yes instead of no even when yes wasn’t a good idea or right for me.  Benjamin Franklin’s “If you want something done ask a busy person” described me perfectly.  Unfortunately, I was always the busy person.


One day I learnt how to say no and how to use it effectively.  It wasn’t easy and it took me getting to a breaking point before I learnt the power of no.


In 2010 I separated from my childhood sweetheart and husband.  I was working full time in a full on and stressful job and we had four boys under eight when I discovered he had been having an affair.  After some backwards and forwards we separated for good in August of 2010.  I was devastated.  We had been together since 16, so the loss was huge and traumatic for all of us.


After the initial panic and devastation I slipped into what I now call “Super Woman mode”.  I was intent on proving to everyone I could survive without my ex husband and I could provide everything my boys needed.  I was lucky to have lots of support from my parents but I felt I had something to prove to the outside world.  I wasn’t going to let the small fact that I was now single parenting four young boys whilst working full time stop me.  Needed something doing?  I was the first to volunteer.  Needed help with something?  Just ask.  I was always going to say yes.  I couldn’t let the outside world think I couldn’t cope with everything being thrown at me.


I have never needed a lot of sleep but the amount of sleep I was surviving on was negligible.  I wasn’t eating properly and was surviving on full sugar Coca-Cola and soups (I lost about 2 stone in the weeks following our separation as I was unable to eat proper food).  But I carried on relentless.  Early morning Skypes with Australia, working a full day, heading home, doing bedtime and then firing up the laptop for another 5 hours wasn’t unusual.  Super woman mode was in full swing and I was unstoppable!


As I’m sure you’ve guessed it wasn’t sustainable.  I managed it for longer than I should have and then one very early morning in December of 2011 it all came crashing down.  I can remember the moment so vividly.  It was 2.40am and I was sat on the floor of my living room wrapping wine bottles for the pre-school Christmas fair I had agreed to organise and run.  I was so tired I could barely sit up so I was leaning back against my settee and I started crying.  Once I started I couldn’t stop.  I sat and cried for about 30 minutes and when I eventually stopped I thought to myself “what the hell are you doing?”.  It took that particular moment to realise I was gradually killing myself to prove something no-one else cared about but me.  I learnt that I needed to say no to save my own sanity.


I ran the Christmas Fair and the next day I sent an email to the Chair of the fundraising committee to tell them I was burnt out and resigning my position.  I never received a reply.  A couple of days later one of the Mums started to talk to me about the next committee meeting.  I stopped her and told her I had resigned so whilst I would try and support the events I wouldn’t be attending the meeting.  She was surprised as she felt “we should all do something for the children”.  I don’t think she liked my reply that as the only member of the committee serving her fourth year and the only one who needed a babysitter to attend the monthly meeting I felt I had already done more than enough for the children, and I wouldn’t be shamed for sticking by my resignation.


As I walked away from the conversation I felt physically lighter.  I had been challenged and stuck to my decision to say no and the feeling has stayed with me.  I thought saying yes meant I was showing I was in control of everything but in reality saying no felt incredibly powerful.   It gave me freedom and I realised by having it as an option I could make better choices for me because I didn’t have to say yes to everything.  I also stopped justifying it and learnt if you say no to somebody you don’t have to give them a reason.


From using it in my personal life I learnt that saying no in your business can be just as powerful.  We’ve all had those clients that we wish we hadn’t agreed to work with.  Sometimes deep down we knew we weren’t a good match but we didn’t know how to say no, didn’t want to offend anyone, or were worried about the repercussions if we refused work, particularly early on in our business.  The power of no is being able to say it confidently knowing it isn’t right for you or for them.  Saying no to work or time stealers that didn’t fit has freed me to be able to pursue working with clients and businesses that I love.


For such a small word it is difficult for many of us to use but I strongly urge you to give it a go.  Who knows where saying “No” could take you?


Amy Hobson of Focus Your Future is a Member of the Woman Who Achieves Academy