Saying “No” Professionally

Over the past year, since coming back from my (short) maternity leave, my professional life has involved taking on more and more and more and more. Between a full-time job, a promotion, my dissertation completion and defense, and the huge merger my company went through, I felt like I was always adding a little more to the pile.

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Once my PhD was wrapping up, I figured, why not add a freelance position in its place? I always like to be busy, I thought. I could make some extra money, I thought. I could fill all of my time productively, I thought.

Yeah… that went well. For about 6 months. Then I started to feel overwhelmed.

This freelance position involved completing four full 350+ word articles each weekday, in a specific content management system with research and images to go with every piece. On days when my full-time job was slow, it was fine. But on days when my job was busy, it could barely be done in time. What finally put me irreversibly behind was taking a trip to Florida for my dad’s birthday: it was easy to get time off from my full-time job, but my freelance position didn’t take kindly to the idea.

I’m not entirely proud of what happened next. I tried to keep up with my articles, but I quickly fell behind as my family (rightly) took precedence. I tried to catch back up, but I felt more motivated to watch my parents enjoy their grandchild—and even more motivated to let myself relax!—than I felt motivated to make more money.

And after the trip, I got an email that wasn’t entirely unexpected: my freelance contract was terminated because I had turned in too many assignments after they were due.

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tried to feel upset about it, but I also knew that it was for the best. I just felt a little ashamed that I hadn’t stepped up and quit the job before I gave them cause to fire me and put them to the trouble of re-assigning articles and replacing me. I should have listened when my mind and body told me that I was overwhelmed with work.

I also shouldn’t have fallen into the trap of thinking that time not spent working was “wasted.” I shouldn’t have made myself feel guilty when I enjoyed an evening with nothing hanging over me. I should have embraced a season of relative respite in my life instead of rushing to fill it with work. I should have sought something fun and fulfilling to add to my life, not something stressful and overwhelming. Lesson learned!

The good thing? This newfound wiggle-room in my schedule will give me the opportunity to pursue two things that have fallen by the wayside despite their personal importance to me:

  1. Podcasting with my good friend L.A. Fields, and
  2. Contributing to a local food blog that I love.

Maybe neither of those things will add to my bank account, but they’ll add to my everyday happiness and they’ll even help me remember that writing isn’t just a job, it’s my hobby and my way of life. It’s fun. It’s integral to who I am. It’s something that should bring up feelings of happiness and anticipation, not stress and dread.

So, like I said: lesson learned.

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