On Saying No

It is hard, but…

Yihui Xie 2017-11-16

A couple of years ago, I read the book Rework by Jason Fried and DHH. I have forgotten most of the essays in the book, but I still remember “Say no by default”. To be honest, it is just damn hard. Every time I say no, it hurts me, because I feel I’m hurting other people.

The only way to make myself a little more comfortable is to think about how many times other people have said no to me, but I was actually fine and could live with it (being refused was not the end of the world or even no big deal at all). Of course, it is sad that I have to use this method.

I’m not alone

I’m certainly not the only person who does not have enough courage to say no. Karl Broman also had the trouble. In the past, I made a lot of promises on new responsibilities by saying yes, but failed to keep them in the end. One of them in 2015 made me felt extremely guilty, and I still feel ashamed about it today.

Saying no as a software developer

Very occasionally I even feel confused whether it is a fortune or misfortune that many people use software packages I developed, when there are just endless new feature requests, and I can never finish a project. The bad consequence is that I can never truly focus on my next new exciting project, and old projects keep dragging me back. I guess that is normal, though. Not many software projects can be really “finished”.

too many feature requests

On a bright day last year, I took a deep breath and showed Karl a few examples of me saying no, hoping myself to remember the courage.

It is easy and very tempting to say yes, but the potential cost is unclear and sometimes unpredictable. You could end up with being “the good and helpful guy” in everybody’s eyes, while leading a miserably busy life by yourself.

Do I wish myself to be helpful? Of course I do, and I have been trying hard (sometimes desperately hard) to be helpful, but on the other hand, I don’t want my life to be completely defined by other people’s requests. I only have 24 hours a day like everyone else, which means I must make decisions on priorities, and some requests have to be refused.

Come to the dark side

Me: Say yes.

Me to me: How about saying no?

the dark side of me