Just Say No for Creatives

As an improv teacher and performer, I believe wholeheartedly in the power of Yes, And. However, having witnessed and suffered personally from the destructive power of too much Yes, today I’m taking a tip from the D.A.R.E. handbook and urging my fellow creatives–sometimes we’ve gotta Just Say No.

Before I delve into the reasoning behind my campaign for saying NoI want to state for the record that I think it’s important to say Yes a lot. Why’s that?

  • Saying yes pushes you out of your comfort zone. Beginning improvisers are encouraged to say Yes so they’ll support each other’s silly and wacky ideas rather than judging them. If your default mode is Yes, you’re going to accept challenges you might not otherwise be inclined to take on.
  • Saying yes helps you grow as a creative and make connections. Building a creative career takes hustle and determination. You need to work a lot at your craft, and many creative endeavors are collaborative. By saying yes, you gain experience and make connections with others that may prove fruitful down the line.

There are many benefits to saying Yes. Yes is powerful! However, problems arise when you say Yes too much:

  • By saying Yes too much, you’re effectively saying No. As people, we’re limited by our time and energy. It’s pretty simple math–if you say Yes to more projects than you have time to complete, you won’t be able to do things you’ve committed to well. Your Yes becomes a No.
  • Even if you can complete the work you’ve committed to, you might not enjoy the process if you’ve said Yes to too much. Remember why you’re saying Yes to creative projects–because you enjoy being creative. If you say Yes to too much, the process becomes a burden rather than an opportunity to do the thing you love.
  • You won’t have time to watch others say Yes if you’re always focused on your own Yes. Artists need audiences and a great way to develop as a creative is to watch and support others in their craft. Be there for other artists. Really be there!
  • You allow Yes to take the lead instead of focusing on what’s important to you and creating your own opportunities. Any quick scroll through social media will show you that about a million things are competing for our attention–shows, classes, the upcoming Spartan Race in Georgia (okay maybe that last one’s my feed). It can be seriously overwhelming. Not only do we not have time to say Yes to all of this, trying to to say yes to so many things creates a sense of fractured purpose. Ask yourself what matters to you and allow this answer to guide you in creating and finding opportunities rather than just letting opportunities find you.

There are a lot of compelling theoretical reasons for being selective with your Yes. But there’s a practical challenge to overcome: it can be really hard to say No (hence the D.A.R.E. campaign).

Why’s it so hard to say No as a creative? Because maybe this is the opportunity that will lead to your big break! And you can’t say No to your friends! What if you say No to this and no one ever asks you to do anything again? Your creative career will be over! Note that this logic is being driven from a place of fear rather than a place of enjoyment.

In reality, what to say yes and no to isn’t a perfect science–it’s a balancing act of time, desire, and opportunity. Practice saying No so you can really: (1) say Yes to completing and enjoying your work, (2) say Yes to your collaborators and honor your commitments to them, and (3) say Yes to other artists by witnessing their work.

Hustle. Work Hard. And sometimes Just Say No so you can truly say Yes. 

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