When to say “No”

Lee Sheppard suggested that I write a post on “When to say ‘No’.

Based on another suggestion for a blog post, I address the matter of when to say no. As Lee was not specific in his suggestion, I will take it as saying no to a show, or a role.

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Now, why should this be important? Because it is all too easy to fall into the trap of accepting everything that comes your way, getting over involved in too many things, stressing out about being able to fulfil all your commitments and basically running yourself into the ground. Let alone the reputation you may gather by doing so.

Interestingly enough, and maybe a little counter-intuitive, you get less respect by being a “yes” man, than by having a few standards. This is true in life also. You need to respect yourself as much as, if not more so, than those around you. What does happen to the yes man, is people become complacent towards you because you always say ‘yes’. You make it easy for everyone and quite without meaning to, they will often take this as a given, which is not much different to taking you for granted.

Side Note: I actually see a difference between the two, seen as a given or taken for granted; one is borne of familiarity and not intention, and the later is more intention and expectation.

So when should you say ‘No’? It’s really quite easy. When saying ‘Yes’ makes you feeling uncomfortable, not happy, that’s when you say ‘No’.

If I may recount a personal experience. I auditioned for a play which I deeply desired to do. I learnt that the director was looking for a certain cast demographic that would most likely have excluded me from some of the roles I wanted, but I auditioned anyway. And so I should. So should you.

I once saw auditions as making a commitment, which was the ‘Yes’ man in me. By auditioning for a show, I was making a promise to do the show if cast. Right there, that is a perspective to be changed. By auditioning, you are showing an interest in the show not a commitment, not yet. You are saying, I would be prepared to commit sure, but you haven’t committed yet. That was one of my earlier mistakes.

Back to the example. I was offered a role. Several in fact. Minor roles, but a lot of them. Now there once was a time where I would have jumped at the opportunity to test my skill at playing various roles. I actually love that stuff. In this case, I tried to picture myself playing the roles, watching others play the roles I ached for, trying not to be critical or envious, and I couldn’t. The thought made me very uncomfortable. I knew that I would not be able to give my best performance if I was constantly being distracted in this way, so I turned the offer down.

Then you have to the other extreme; saying ‘No’ when perhaps you shouldn’t have. Don’t let pride and arrogance blind you to the opportunities that are out there. When you narrow your standards too much, you reduce your options also. I have done this also.

Another play which I would love to be in one day, and I auditioned for only the lead role. I determined before hand that I would accept nothing less. I stuck to my guns, walked away feeling quite proud about it, and didn’t get a role. However, had I opened my sights a bit better, I would have been first choice for another role, which I realised, after the fact of course, that I would have loved to play.

Then and only then, did I recognise what I had done. I had smothered all my feelings with an intellectual motive to demand the best. This is simply sheer arrogance, or naivety. In my case, a bit of both. Had I listened at all to my heart, I would have acknowledged the discomfort I was feeling with my choice. Had I listened to that feeling, I would have had another play on my CV.

So again, with a little embellishment, when should you say ‘No’? When saying ‘Yes’ makes you feel uncomfortable, and after some time to reflect. Don’t make your choice too hastily. Allow yourself sometime to consider all your choices, and be realistic about them. Don’t be afraid to say “Can I think about it for a day?” The Director/Casting Director will either say, “Sure” or “I need a decision now”, so at the very least, you know where you stand.

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