Most of the time it’s awesome to say yes. Being positive and curious leads to great experiences and emotional growth. Recently I’ve been reading a book by Baron Baptiste, who developed Baptiste Power Vinyasa yoga, and he describes being a yes as, “Not about saying ‘Yes’ to anything and everything that comes your way. In fact, the power of saying ‘No’ at times is a key element of being a yes to your life and a way to empower others to take charge of their lives.”
I love this concept and recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the value in knowing when to say no. Of allowing yourself to be a ‘no’ person sometimes.
It can be hard to say no to a toxic friend who treats you like crap whenever you’re together but who you keep making plans with because of misguided loyalty to the history you have. To turn down a date with someone you don’t really like because you feel pressured to be out there “trying” to find romance. Maybe you struggle to say ‘no’ to that last drink that topples you over the edge and means you’ll feel like ass the next day because you suffer from deep debilitating FOMO and can’t fathom leaving the bar before everyone else. It could be struggling to say ‘no’ to that piece of birthday cake at a work party because you don’t want to appear to be a party pooper, even though you know sugar gives you acne and a sluggish head.
There are lots of ways in life to say ‘no’ for positive reasons and saying ‘no’ to that date, shitty friend, tequila or red velvet cake is often ultimately a much more positive choice for yourself than saying ‘yes’.
Positively choosing ‘no’ can be a great concept to apply to many areas of our lives, but for me, the place it comes up the most is in my work as a professional musician.
When you’re a freelancer it’s easy to get caught up in the scarcity mindset. We’ve often spent so long hustling, accepting every job offer, moving heaven and earth to make unexpected opportunities work, and sacrificing time with our family and friends that it’s hard to even conceive of actually choosing to turn down a job. We’re so afraid we’ll never be hired again that we don’t consider whether we actually want the job on offer. Whether accepting the work will ultimately improve our lives.
If you’re struggling to pay your bills then yes, take anything that comes along and be grateful for any chance to make some cash. Once you have some stability and a solid network around you it’s good to take a step back occasionally and ask, “Do I really want to say yes to this, or am I just afraid to say no?”
Freelancers can get stuck saying ‘yes’ to everything, regardless of the details, because saying ‘no’ feels fundamentally wrong. Because we’ve stopped even thinking about ‘no’ as an option.
Sometimes it’s not a hard and fast yes or no situation. It could be ‘Yes, but I’ll need more money to make that work’. Or ‘Yes, but for that rate I don’t have the time to chart all these songs out, so I can do the gig, but I’ll need you to provide those for me’. ‘Yes I’d love to record with you for a reduced rate on your indie project, but I’ll only be able to be there from 10-4pm so if you can work within that time frame, let’s do it!’
Sometimes it’s good to say ‘no’ if the people in the band are a bummer to be around. Or the artist pays well but their music makes you want to jump off a cliff. It’s great to say ‘no’ if everything about the gig is perfect except the fact that the lyrics are sexist or racist or have a generally shitty sentiment that you don’t want to represent. It’s okay to say ‘no’ to a tour that will make you miss your family reunion or your friend’s wedding. And, in shocking news, you can say ‘no’ if you just need a day off.
If you do accept a gig, you accept it 100%. Don’t turn up with an attitude or without having done your homework. If you don’t think you’re being paid enough, or you think you’re too good for a job, don’t accept the job. If you do accept, it’s up to you to bring your A-game regardless of the situation you find yourself in. It’s not the employer’s fault if you feel like you’re not being paid adequately, it’s yours for saying yes when you should have said ‘No thank you’. Learn the songs, be on time, do a great job, have a good attitude – always, regardless of whether you’re being paid $2000 a day or zero.
The best reason to say ‘no’ is that turning down something that isn’t a good fit leaves you open to say ‘yes’ to something way better. To something that makes you happy, keeps your mind and body healthy, helps you lead the life you love, and hopefully also gets you enough of those dollah dollah bills to buy all the micro-brewed beer, boutique bourbon or fancy tea your heart desires.
Vanessa McGowan is a Fender and Aguilar endorsee originally from New Zealand, currently based in Nashville TN. She plays bass and sings backing vocals for a wide range of touring artists including Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles, Brandy Clark and Tattletale Saints.