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The importance of saying “no”

In this article you will read the word “no” many times. Despite the negative connotation, knowing how to say “no” at the proper times could prove to be positive.

We live in times where the work culture and the incessant search for opportunities dominate our lives. It is instilled in us from a very early age that to achieve the standard of living we desire, we have to work and produce and create wealth in return.

As I advanced in my career and conquered new stages I realized that I wasn't exactly making my life richer and actually achieving my goals, I was just filling it with clutter, with obligations, and above all with debt, not just an economic debt, but also an emotional one.

So I worked even harder, to earn more, to repeat this vicious and addictive cycle that is what we call modern life.

It was at the time when I had achieved one of my most desired professional goals - becoming the creative director of an agency - that suddenly everything became clear. This happened when I was 41 or 42 years old - A chest pain that lasted 6 months and which turned out to be anxiety, was more than enough argument for the first significant “no” of my professional life. I said no to that life that until now was the only one I really knew, I refused the job that gave me a reasonably above average salary, I refused the lifestyle that until now I had been building for practically 20 years. It sounds a little dramatic, but it's not. It was just a change of plans, something that I realized could happen at any time in our lives, without damaging what we had previously built.

There is a haze in my memory of that time, which today I attribute to a certain burnout that I either had, even if only slightly, or that was imminent.

The truth is that from that moment on, I might not have known exactly what I wanted in life, but I was sure of what I didn't want, and this way of thinking, this new rule that I adopted, allowed me to make a series of decisions that brought me to where I am today.


That first “no” opened the door to a series of other “no’s”.

Don't freelance for agencies. I didn't need to chase anyone, I had a guaranteed source of income. But strategically it's not what I want. So ... no!

No to project X for client Y. Too much work, lack of respect and not enough money. That's not the balance I'm looking for. So ... no!

No to the project that would open the doors to wealth, I just have to pay attention to the first job... My conditions are as I present, so paying attention to the first project to win over the client is a lack of respect for the clients who They give me work often. So ... no!

But each of those “no’s” turned out to be important, because shortly after each one, the opportunity I was looking for appeared.

Yes to a direct client looking for a designer for a meaningful collaboration. Yes to the more profitable than average one shot project. Yes to the collaboration that opened the door to many other collaborations.

It is often said that we sow what we reap. From a certain point of view, I sowed some “nos” and reaped some “yes”. It is not guaranteed that a “no” always equates to a “yes”, but some “no’s” eventually result in at least a “yes”.

The ability to say “no” has been improving. I learned to refuse jobs that don't meet the conditions I think are ideal by increasing the amount I could normally ask for them. In the worst case scenario, if the job comes to fruition, I at least make money, if nothing else from it. It never happens because all decisions are made based on the price factor. If this happens, it is because the client has no alternative and has a rope around their neck.

Saying “no” has also allowed the work I have completed to have greater quality. The time and energy invested in that action with leaflets and roll ups and endless changes, when used in an identity project, not only contributes to a better final result, because there was more time to develop the project, but also to a more pleasant portfolio, strategically positioned and directed in the path I intend to take with my career and the work I prefer to develop.

Turning down work or a particular client has also proven essential to maintaining a healthy balance between my professional and personal life. You don't have to get to the point of exhaustion to change your life, just pay attention to the signs. Having moments of pause is important, especially in a “creative” occupation. How many times are we in front of the computer forcing and forcing and nothing comes out. And after a coffee break and a few minutes of looking out the window, everything becomes clear and we even feel dumb thinking how we didn't come to this conclusion sooner. And have moments of pause between projects too. Being able to disconnect from the previous project long enough to not use the same formula on the next one. How many times have I made this mistake.

Taking on every job that comes our way can distract us from more meaningful projects and opportunities. I don't want to belittle the different needs of each client, but saying no to less impactful work allows us to focus our resources and energy on building something greater than a simple professional occupation. It could be the difference between dying slowly or living gloriously. I'm so proud of this sentence.

There is a certain professional self-valuation that we owe to ourselves, and saying no to one job over another is a message that we are sending to the market and that could contribute to the valorization of our profession. Even if some clients see us as pretentious or bad professionals, saying no, when it is appropriate to do so, is a valid strategic choice, which can preserve the quality of our work, keep us focused on our goals, balance our personal life and professional and value our time and effort.

And it's much more fun to do things our way, isn't it?

Have you realized the importance of saying “no” in your life? Have you ever felt the benefit of refusing work? I'm sure you've experienced a moment where you wanted to say no and didn't and secretly wish you could go back and know what life would be like if you had...

Share that moment, exorcise those demons.

Thank you for making it to the end of this article and will I see you on the next one?


This article is an adaptation, translated from the script of the 11th episode of my podcast Graphic Design in Portuguese


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