The Power of “No” – How to Set Personal Boundaries

I was a recent college grad who had just landed my first real job. Working on a major project, I was overwhelmed and eager to prove myself. My boss walked into the office I shared with a colleague and requested my immediate presence in the conference room for an impromptu meeting. Her timing could not have been worse. Before I could think of what to say, I heard myself utter, “No, now is not a good time.” Shocked by my boldness, my boss responded with a simple, “Come into the conference room when you can.” That was the first time I experienced the power of “no.” One word said it all – I have reached my limit and adding anything else may send me over the top.

Women are known for seeking perfection that pushes them beyond the limit. Too often, we strive to be everything to everyone without considering our own needs. It is important to set personal boundaries to prevent exhaustion. Here are 4 ways that will help you set personal boundaries to take better care of yourself. 

  1. Identify triggers of exhaustion. Everyone exhibits stress in different ways. My anxiety goes up when my stress level has reached its peak. If I don’t rest, an inevitable panic attack is near. Identify the physical, emotional and mental triggers that increase your stress levels and are indicators of burnout. When you have reached that point, start to simplify your life. The first step to simplification is knowing what you are able to handle.
  2. Set and communicate professional and personal expectations. Before you start on that new project or take on that new role, make sure all of those involved know what to expect of you. Open dialogue so they will know what you will and will not do. Are you willing to stay late once a week, but the weekends are off limits? Will you work on 2 new projects a month, but anything that requires more than 50% overtime is not an option? Answer these questions for yourself and then communicate with your team and family what they can expect from you. Anything beyond that will require a simple “no.”
  3. Be okay with judgment and animosity. Let’s face it, the word “no,” especially when spoken with fervor and conviction, intimidates some and upsets others. That is not your problem. Women have to get out of the people pleasing business and do what’s best not only for others, but for themselves. Don’t take someone else’s anger personally. If you are saying “no,” because it is best for you, then stick to it unapologetically. In the words of my grandma, “They’ll get over it.” 
  4. Identify why you are saying “no.” The idea is not to say “no” just for the sake of saying “no.” Though it can be a huge stress reliever, it’s a declaration that must be done with purpose. As mentioned earlier, it can cause animosity from those on the receiving end so make sure it is beneficial for all parties involved that you do not oblige.

Interviews of highly successful people like Warren Buffet and Oprah Winfrey have all discussed the power of “No.” When it’s your turn to say it, know you’re in good company.

Vonna Matthews

Vonna Matthews is a marketing and branding expert who has over ten years experience working with non-profits and small businesses. She received her Bachelor's degree from the University of Texas at Austin and her MBA from Dallas Baptist University. As a wife, mother of 2 and entrepreneur, Vonna understands the challenges of work/life balance. Her brand Bottles, Bibs & Pumps helps mompreneurs grow their businesses.

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Walker's Legacy is a growing global women in business collective founded to establish networks of empowerment and access for women of color in business.