The 21st century adage of “learning how to say no at work” is splattered all over the internet, with every career advice site preaching it religiously. There are endless self help books guiding people on the right and wrong times to refuse your boss. In fact, just this past week I've had to do so twice and while I knew it was the right thing to do, it made me squirm. And then I realized, everyone tells you you have to say no sometimes, but no one teaches you how to not feel guilty about it.
When I was asked to work a couple hours one weekend, I said no because I had visitors coming in from out of town. I then sat there and looked a little glum, which is probably why my coworker and friend in the office tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, I hope you don’t think you did something wrong, because you didn't.”
Then why did I feel like I did?
My mom sometimes calls me “princess”, mostly when she’s being sarcastic (as one does a Yorkie in a bedazzled hoodie), and sometimes when she’s trying to make me feel better. And while every girl dreams of being Cinderella at some point (though personally, I’m more of an Ariel), I always kind of winced at the sound of “princess.” I grew up incredibly privileged, I have things most of my peers envied, and I was incredibly aware of it, even wary of it. But I try my best not to draw attention to it , especially when it comes to my work. Mixed in with the fact that I’m part of the generation they call “millennials,” a.k.a. “privileged brats that can’t stay at a job for longer than three months,” I always try to go out of my way to ensure that my employers have no reason to think of me as such. That means at every internship I nodded even when I wanted to shake my head, and smiled even when I loathed what was in front of me.
But at some point, I might have forgotten where the line is drawn—namely, the line between saying no because I’m a millennial and saying no because it’s important for my mental and emotional well being. But I've since learned that saying no means that you respect yourself and that you demand that others respect you too. A friend of mine told me that she once had a part time job at a modeling agency and her friend worked there too. Same age, same pay but they were treated drastically differently. Why? From day one, her friend was assertive in her responses, giving off an air of control and quickly drawing boundaries. On the other hand, my friend didn't dare to say no and always worked the extra shift. In the end, she noticed, she worked harder and longer hours, but the boss respected her friend more.
At the end of the day, me punishing myself, and overcompensating for the fact that I've been privileged did no one any good. It neither put me in a happy position nor gain me any more respect. Sometimes saying no to someone else means saying yes to yourself, and saying yes to yourself doesn't mean you're acting entitled, it just means you can do anything but not everything and not right now.