Why you need to learn to say no

John Drury


written on November 6, 2017

Purpose, self-respect and valuing close relationships will help you in this quest.

Burnout is a huge issue in the modern workplace and it doesn’t discriminate, whether you’re an employee, manager or business owner. A Harvard medical school study found that 96 per cent of senior leaders felt somewhat burned out, with one third describing it as extreme. While it’s not easy to admit openly, high profile CEO’s such as Arianna Huffington and Angela Benton have helpfully shared their burnout stories and how they adjusted as a result.

In my role as CEO of a large community organisation I was terrible at saying no and it cost me dearly. I loved helping people become connected to purpose. A lot of people joined our programs and were very grateful for the help we were able to give.

However, over the years I was not giving the same care to myself or my marriage. My wife began to resent that I was often coming home late. On a day off I would be tired and have little energy for her and our family. I was saying yes to people, in the name of a great cause, but no to my marriage and family. It got to the point where I was unable to relax away from work. I felt restless and irritable and totally forgot how to spend meaningful time alone.

At the same time, I felt terribly lonely, and longed for deeper intimacy. Much of this I only understood later upon reflection. I was burned out to the point where I made some poor decisions that led to me needing to resign my position. I also lost my marriage.

If I had learned to say no, at least some of the time, my life would not have gone through such a painful period.

To avoid burnout and loss, you need to learn to say no more easily. It helps when you have these three things in place:

  • Know your purpose. Direction and passion come along with having a sense of purpose, which makes it easier to determine what you will and won’t do.
  • Have self-respect. Purpose is not enough to build a great life. Giving yourself fully to pursuing a great purpose can lead to burnout. Self-respect helps you to be secure on the inside and  know your strengths and values. It will also help you develop effective self-care strategies and manage your life, so you always have energy for what’s important.
  • Value close relationships. When you spend long hours working hard you need to make sure you’re devoting enough time to the people who are most important to you. Children grow up very fast, and marriages can grow stale. Relationships require time and effort to grow. Valuing close relationships means prioritising those you love.

If saying no is a struggle for you, I encourage you to think about what you want and worry less about what others want for your life. It has been 10 years since my marriage ended, and in that time I’ve done a lot of personal development and self-discovery. I have worked hard in every area of my life to build self-respect. My new life, marriage, business and relationships are built upon much more solid ground.

I have learnt that there’s great freedom in being able to smile and genuinely say, “I’m so sorry. I’d love to assist you, but I have other plans. I hope everything goes really well for you”. Then move on; guilt free.

John Drury is a business mentor, keynote speaker and author.

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