Should I Say Yes or No? Here's How to Decide

04/22/2015 04:51 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015
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There seem to be two camps: there are those who think you should say "yes" to everything, and those who recommend you say "no" to a lot more than you agree to. (The former camp even had a movie to prove the legitimacy of the yes-to-everything philosophy: 2008's Yes Man starring Jim Carrey.)

For a long period of time, I adopted the yes-to-all mindset. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I didn't get asked out a lot (I went to an all-girls high school), so anytime I got asked out, I said yes. I carried that over into other things, such as internships and collaborations.

I think it served me well. I met my totally lovable dork of a boyfriend (we met online, went on our first date and became official all in one day), got a lot of work experience in college (including six internships and several freelance assignments), have gone to some really cool events and met awesome people. Saying yes definitely has its upsides.

But commit to too much and you can quickly lose yourself. It's a topic I've noticed while reading recently.

"In my earlier 20s, I said yes to everyone. I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings and I thrived so much on being busy that I often attended three parties in one night," writes Life Coach Alexis Meads. "This left me feeling depleted and full of anxiety..."

Truly, committing to too much can leave you feeling frazzled, tired, and even incompetent. Typically, I feel this way when I agree to take on the kind of assignments I normally get paid for. I hit a point in senior year of college where I decided that working for free was not something I could ideologically agree with (nor could I afford to with major bills to pay). And I've since reneged a few times, committing to things that I didn't particularly take interest in -- and I often said yes because I thought it might help me build a relationship.

For instance, there was the time I agreed to write blog posts for a bicycling blog pro bono. And I was so overwhelmed with other (paying) assignments that I couldn't get around to writing those posts. I must admit that I still feel pretty guilty about those unwritten posts. Eek, sorry, guys!

Why are you saying yes? If you're saying yes because you don't want to let someone down, you may not be properly motivated to take action -- or might end up feeling worse than if you'd passed. That's why I should have passed on the free blogging for that cycling site. I'm not passionate about bicycles -- actually haven't been on one since I was 10 and needed training wheels -- and I had paying assignments I hadn't been able to complete.

The modern woman needs to learn balance and form some guidelines for when she'll say yes and when she'll say no. That guideline could be as broad as saying yes only to the things you can go "all in" on, like entrepreneur Lauren Maillian Bias. "[W]hile even today I take on more than I should at times, I never say 'yes' to anything that I don't have a genuine interest in, or a project that I won't be able to be 'all in,'" writes Bias in her book, The Path Redefined.

There's another way to look at it...

Let's take step back for a second into economics class. I think the only concept that stuck with me from macroeconomics was that of opportunity cost. That's what the New Oxford American Dictionary defines as "the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen." This is the basic concept: In the same breath that you say yes to something, you say no to other things.

When you utter the word "yes," what are you saying "no" to? Are you okay with giving up those things? If so, then you know agreeing to the first thing is the right decision.

I'm learning to be much more honest and judicious when deciding to commit to something. I can't say I always say yes, and I don't always say no. Sometimes I say yes when I shouldn't and other times I say no when I shouldn't. I'm not perfect and it's a process.

Rosella LaFevre is a marketing and communications consultant helping clients get NOTED: be seen, be heard, and be read. She serves clients in the fashion, arts, design and business services worlds. Rosella is also a writer whose work has appeared online and in print, in national and regional publications, including:, The Huffington Post, Philadelphia magazine, and She earned her B.A. in Journalism from Temple University.

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