On saying “no” (or at least “no, but”)

Like so many of you, I have taken on too much. *sigh*

Like many librarians, I’m a pleaser.  I want to say “yes.” Oh, I may buck at authority structures, but really, I want to make the world a better place and everyone’s day brighter. (Obviously, unlike some bloggers, I have never been accused of being the incorrigibly pessimistic Annoyed Librarian.)

I want to find the best answer to your ref question, I want to reform your small dysfunctional non-profit, I want to find the book that will turn the head of your reluctant reader, and I want to do everything brilliantly and on time.

Of course I also want to have a life. Ha ha.

I tend to attribute this personality trait of mine to being socialized as a girl child (particularly within my educated, middle class social location) but I think there is also an element of people-pleasing in the culture of niceness endemic to librarianship.  (Not all together separable, seeing as it’s a largely feminized profession, but I digress…)

However, knowing I’m not alone in this boat, I wanted to share a nice moment I had recently. I was approached to do a little sideline work (yes, *more* work…the last thing I need, right? oy.). And it was work I wanted to do – work I knew I could do well, was of interest to me, and I felt could make a difference in the world.

I had a heads-up that this work offer might be coming, so I had a couple of days in which to dither about it. So I dithered. I mentioned it to my partner who emphasized to me that I do not need more work. I journalled about it: how I don’t need more work, but didn’t it sound cool, and how unfortunate that it had to happen now.  I thought about who I could recommend that would be a good fit for the contract and might have the time to squeeze it in. So when the official approach came, I was more or less prepared to say “no.”

But it was still hard! I sat with my email reply window staring at me for a few minutes before beginning to type.  I dithered some more. Waffled a bit.  Looked at my calendar up down and sideways, wondering if there were perhaps some secret extra day in the week I just hadn’t noticed yet. Worried about turning down paid work in this kinda-scary economy. And eventually responded, as I knew I would have to, that I was interested but just unable to commit to more work at this time.

I also added that I was sorry to have to pass up this opportunity, that I’d love to be kept in mind for future work along the same lines, and when I expected that I would be more available to take on such a new project. <–This is something I learned from my partner, who is a health care practitioner in private practice and has to manage wait lists, plan contracts in advance, make referrals, etc. Some people just want a referral to someone else if you’re too busy, and others want to wait until you are available. It sounds uber-obvious when I lay it out like this, but for me it’s still a struggle to transition from “I can do everything…until I burn out and then I can’t!” to “I can’t do this now but let me be upfront and tell you if and when I could do something similar so you can make an educated decision about your next steps.” It’s still hard to say “no,” even when it’s “no, but.”

I’m excited to be setting those boundaries. It’s how I would want to be treated. And it tends to work out well, in my experience, as others seem to appreciate the honesty and do come back later when I have said I’d have more time.  Giving me yet more work, of course, but at least it’s getting more manageable the more I say “no” and the better I get at sussing out and pinning down early on in a proposal/offer exactly what the parameters of the work will be.



1 Comment

Filed under The Profession, Uncategorized

One response to “On saying “no” (or at least “no, but”)

  1. Martha

    It is only now that I get around to reading this post… it was a sneaky one that I missed.

    I’m glad that you are learning to say no. I’ve seen you in action and I am always amazed how much stuff you manage to get done and how casual you are about it. So good, very good.

    As another pleaser (and some would say, a keener), I find myself in similar scenarios, although mostly with no financial incentives. Before I even know it, I have joined committees, task forces, initiated projects… you get the idea.

    A few months ago, as I was wrapping up things in Canada and getting ready to move here and start a new job, I had to quit a board of directors, committees and contracts and I decided that I would pace myself, give myself some time to learn the ropes at work, get personal time, rest… oh, and time to blog. For my standards, I’ve done good; more than saying no, I’ve kept my mouth shot and my hand down… most of the time.

    I am proud of myself; I’ve even included limiting my activities in committees and professional organizations (to my supervisor’s relief) as one of my goals for 2009.

    I like saying yes, I like being involved and getting things done. Lets face it, I also like being asked for special projects or to join committees but I am enjoying having less extracurricular activities. Still, I look forward to being able to say more “yeses” in the future once I settle in.

    In the mean time, I have said plenty of yes (and would you like me to… ?) to my faculty and will have plenty of tutorials and tours to conduct to keep me busy for a while.

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