Learn “Deep Yes” so You Can Say “No”

JustineMuskLast year, I was on the verge of burnout and a friend sent me the most wonderful list: Justine Musk’s 25 Badass Ways to Say No.

I’ve always had a hard time rejecting requests, whether they’re from a family member, a friend, a coworker, or a total stranger. I want to be the perfect hostess, making sure everyone enjoys the time spent with me. Making sure everyone likes me.

My exhaustion last year didn’t only depend on not wanting to disappoint people. Life threw me a few hurdles: my dad’s fast onset of dementia, my mom’s reoccurrence of cancer, my husband’s shoulder injury, which although not life-threatening required caretaking duties. A person saner than me would have recognized that these events demanded less commitment elsewhere. But I barged on, over-committing myself to write a grant, organize a physics conference, join work committees and initiatives, and keep up with my regular volunteer duties in the community.

Hence the burnout.

Even when life doesn’t throw huge boulders in our paths, creative folks don’t always recognize that it’s okay to say “no.” It’s okay to set aside time to practice our art. We’re not being selfish. We’re not being entitled. We’re just doing what’s necessary to nourish that part of us that feeds our soul.

Justine’s list didn’t cure my tendency to instinctively say “yes” to any and all requests, but it I am learning to be more protective of my writing time. I’m not yet brave enough to say all the things on the list out loud, but it’s so much easier for my mouth to utter a “no” when my brain is thinking one of these:

-Life’s too short to do things I don’t love.

-My ladyballs are not that big.

-There is a person who totally kicks ass at this. I am not that person.

-The idea is bad and you must be punished.

-I no longer do things that make me want to kill myself.

-It would cause the slow withering death of my soul.

It’s easy to think that until we are published, sold our first photograph, or recorded our first song, we don’t have the right to turn down a request in favor of writing, painting, creating. But actually, we do.

Actually, we must.

Or we’ll never have the chance to be creative and our ToDo list will cause the slow withering death of our souls.

Justine did a TED Talk earlier this year. This fifteen minute video teaches how saying a “deep yes” to yourself allows saying “no” to others. Although the talk is from the perspective of how women are notoriously bad at putting themselves first, it applies to all creative souls—no matter the gender.

Are you good at saying “no” so you can say “yes” to creative time? If so, how do you do it?


  • Jere says:

    Love her! And this is a perfect reminder to my life too. Thanks again my friend for being someone I want to be when I grow up!

  • Joi says:

    We all need to be able to say a little more ‘NO’ in our lives. Great reminder :)

  • A few of the ones on the list kind of sounds like your voice when I say them in my head. :-)

  • Cathryn Cade says:


    This is so worthwhile to remember!

    Volunteering can be uplifting, worthwhile and feed our souls and our community, but in the end we each have to decide, do I want to be the person who boosted others while building my own writing career, or do I want to be the person who took on so much that it cost me my own writing time as well as my own health(mental and physical)?

    Overdoing causes stress, and often comes at the expense of time to exercise, recreate and spend time with family and friends.

    Glad for you that you’ve decided to cut back and re-route your energies for you.

    • Asa Maria says:

      It took me a while to realize that writing time was essential for mental health. Once I made that connection, I was doing the world a favor by writing. Basically, keeping the crazy under control. :-)

  • Kathryn says:

    Great video, Asa!

  • Very timely, Asa. Spring is a time when I think I should be doing many things (weeding, planting, cleaning, etc.). However, my older bones and joints strenuously object!

    Once I made a commitment to my hands saying no became easier (as did asking for help and hiring someone). I love typing my stories on my computer. There is something about how my brain functions that allows the story to flow more smoothly this way than if I write it out longhand. Yes, there are programs like Dragon Speak, but I’m not as organized or concise with my speech as I am with my brain to fingers to computer process.

    I’m very glad I clicked the link and read this!

  • Carrie Padgett says:

    I love that list of reasons for saying NO! I also tend to pile too much on myself and then find myself going under. Thanks for this post, Asa, reminding me that it’s okay to say no and that by saying no to someone else, I’m saying yes to myself.

    • I have that list posted over my computer at home and at work. Everytime I feel the need to volunteer for something or answer a call to action, I look at the list. I don’t always say an outright no, but I do take the time to pause and think about my priorities. ;-)

  • Great post, Asa,
    I’m so glad to hear you’re finding ways to give yourself room and time for your writing and creative outlets. I’m also frequently guilty of trying to be helpful and taking on more than I should – and regretting it later on. Sometimes because our writing schedule is more flexible, others can take advantage of it, and so can we. But we’re not writers – and not truly whole – unless we write. :) Have a great week, and all the best in giving the most to your art.

  • Debra Elise says:

    Asa, I usually apply my “no’s” to housework LOL…hence my piles of laundry and dirty floors. I’m trying to get better at expanding this ability to the organizations I belong to ;) and yes even friends and family. Right now the only time I can write is when when the kiddo’s are out of the house, and that time flies by. Thanks MisGHF for this timely post. You Rock!

  • Amy DeLuca says:

    Wonderful post! I have this problem, too. And because I don’t work outside the home, I think others believe I have unlimited free time. Far from it– I sleep about 5-6 hours a night and literally don’t have enough time in my day to get everything done. I guess I need to remember that I CAN do it all, just not all at once. There are times and seasons for things.

    • I’ve arranged my work schedule so that I am on campus (I teach) 3 days a week. Those are 14 hour days for me. On my non-teaching days I write, but I often hear that those are my “days off.” It took me a long time to before I truly believed I deserve those days and that that is MY TIME, not someone elses.

  • Abbie Roads says:

    I LOVE: “My ladyballs are not that big.”

    Great post, Asa!

  • Shelly Alexander says:

    I absolutely love this. I’ve had a hard time saying no in my life. I’ve gotten better at it the last few years, which is probably why I’ve made some headway in my writing career. Still, it’s hard. Thanks for sharing this!

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