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The Case for Saying NO

by Vicki Salemi

“I’m having too much fun in my life and my job,” says Laird, who runs the Trenton (N.J.) Downtown Association, which helps revitalize core downtown businesses.

The new position would have meant more prestige and money, but longer hours and less time with her fifteen month-old daughter. Laird said it was a simple call: she didn’t want to miss her daughter’s wonder years by taking on a more demanding job. “The more I thought about it, the more I found other reasons to turn it down,” she says. “I had just recruited an assistant who is one year out of college and she took a pay cut to work for me. We landed a new consulting assignment with a government agency. I could go on.”


What happened to Laird is common these days, says Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author of The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It–and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever.

When women have a chance to take on more responsibility, the dark side of what lies ahead often becomes quite clear.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, Newman says, and it beats taking a new, more challenging position–only to quickly regret it once you’re already immersed in paperwork and new responsibilities.

If a new opportunity presents itself, Newman suggests taking a personal inventory that identifies your priorities to see if it’s the right move. “A job may be too difficult and beyond your ability, you may have to change your location and change your schedule,” she says. “A leadership position may not drive your career in the direction you want. Saying “no” allows you to feel in charge of your own life, career, destiny rather than feeling as if others are pushing or forcing you.”

And having the corner office isn’t the end all and be all, Newman says. More money in a bigger job may be intoxicating at first, but making a bad move–one that you regret–can make your personal life miserable. And it rarely looks good on a resume, once you’ve accepted a bigger position, to split soon after you were promoted.


Tami West, author of Balancing Your Career and Your Life, says you should only accept a more important position when it adds value to your life and brings you closer to your vision–not further away. “Accepting for financial gain only, without values and vision, will be a temporary gain. Eventually you will leave the job or suffer the emotional and physical consequences of resentment.”


Arlene Dresdale MacIntosh had a chance at a hospital promotion in which she would have taught doctors how to improve their medical documentation skills–a step up from her current position, supervising nurses who discharge surgical patients.

But MacIntosh knew that the new role would be a considerable sacrifice of her personal time. “I did not want more responsibility involving more of my time,” she says. “My days are already running to ten hours. I have no time or energy to pursue my other interests of dancing, gym, archeology and volunteer work with animals. To advance up the career ladder at the expense of interaction with your children, spouse, friends, family and interests seems like quite a compromise.”


Laird says that it is perfectly fine to walk away from an opportunity if warning bells go off in your head. “There will be other opportunities. As long as I continue to perform well, more should come my way.” Says McIntosh: “To have the insight to refuse a promotion gives any woman a sense of confidence. Money and power are very tempting. To know what the trade off will be at the moment the offer stands before you makes you an insightful person.”

About the author:

Vicky Salemi, known as Viviacious Vicki on the Women For Hire blogs, is an accomplished author and regular contributor to AOL and MSN regarding careers and education. She blogs about Manhattan adventures.