The Power Of "No"

Yesterday, I popped into MORE’s Reinvention Convention to listen to the Women In Hollywood Panel.  The Convention is an extension of the magazine’s content for smart, professional women, offering them the chance to, “Imagine All Your Possibilities”, on the road to reinvention. The room was packed with at least 500 well-dressed, confident looking women, seemingly in their late 30s, 40s and 50s.  Lee Woodruff (Good Morning America Contributor/Author) moderated a lively discussion with some of Hollywood’s most powerful executives about women’s changing roles behind, and in front of, the camera.

The conversation floated over balance between career and family – there isn’t any — the lack of female executives to model, and my favorite, Nora Ephron.  Although the other panelists couldn’t name a female, industry mentor, Rita Wilson (Actress, Producer, Writer) noted Ephron as hers; one who not only supported her as an actress, but who has also encouraged her as a writer.

For me, one of the most surprising moments in the discussion came when Linda Bell Blue (Executive Producer, Entertainment Tonight & The Insider) made an off-hand comment, something to the effect of, now that she was 50, it was much easier for her to say, “no”.

“Am I right?” she asked the panel, with a casual glance at the audience.

No rousing applause, no consensus, just a small smattering of claps and some general discomfort.

Kristin Patrick (EVP, Marketing Strategy, William Morris Endeavor) and Nancy Utley (President of Fox Searchlight Pictures) sat silently until Patrick quipped that she didn’t like saying it, and maybe it was because of her Catholic School upbringing.  (I feel you on the Catholic school complexes Kristin.)

I was stunned.

I thought it was just me.

I’m a recovering “bottle-up” type who wants people to like me.  However, after a cancer diagnosis and treatment in 2001, I find myself incapable of doing what doesn’t align with my beliefs, values and goals — at least not for very long.  “NO” rises up from my gut, a powerful force to be reckoned with, and sadly if I try to push it down, the word makes itself heard, without a lot of sugar and everything else that’s nice.

And I have to say, it’s liberating, downright transformative.

Yes there have been consequences — not all good.

Admittedly, I get into trouble on occasion but I prefer it to the alternative:  death.

Sounds dramatic I know but I think that every time a woman silences herself, talks herself out of doing what is best for her, it kills her a little bit.

Saying no isn’t always about fear, it’s about protection — that’s why 2-year-olds do it so well.  It’s also a powerful commitment to what you believe.  And as far as I’m concerned, saying it is absolutely required to be a leader in your life and move yourself forward.

If that room is any indication, what affected me so much is that the problem is so pervasive.

I wondered if the women who said yes to everyone else all the time, were equally as comfortable saying yes to the themselves?  Could they say yes to their own needs, to achieving their own dreams?  Or was yes too tired from working for everyone else?  I also wondered if single women, who often get a bad rap for being "picky" are better at saying it?

The question I didn’t get to ask because we ran out of time was, can you think of an example in your career when you said no — even though it might have made you uncomfortable — and the outcome was positive.   How did you handle it?

We learn by example right and I suspect that the more women get in touch with their “no”, the more balanced our lives will become.

What about you?  Do you hate saying “no”?  If not, got any tips on how to do it for those who do?

The next More Reinvention Conference happens in New York city in October.   You can stream yesterday’s Monday’s sessions at the MORE.com Reinvention Convention page.