The Power of NO

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The Power of NO

Why is the word NO one of the first words we learn as a toddler, and the one word that we do not hesitate to use; but when we become adults that same word is almost impossible to say? Unless you are talking to your toddler, that is.

I ask this of myself often as my role in medicine and now physician leadership continues to change. I am working on saying YES to what matters most to my “why” and my role. This requires me to have clarity in regard to my purpose and goals, and it requires selectivity. As I choose to say YES less frequently, I can actually give these endeavors the attention they deserve and need. I can do this without running myself ragged and without becoming overextended.

There is always the fear that if one says NO you might be perceived as lazy or uncooperative, but there are ways to politely decline and still offer help. You can suggest another person more able to help, suggest other resources, provide information without committing time, or ask if the project can be delayed until you have more time available to commit to it. Fortunately, more people are coming to understand that NO is not a negative word but rather an affirmation of your prior commitments.

Burnout in medicine and many other fields today is a real problem. As we overextend ourselves the opportunity for burnout grows exponentially. We become overwhelmed and overworked and possibly underappreciated by ourselves and by others. We have less time for our passions, our “whys,” and, more importantly, for our families and ourselves. We don’t have time to hit the recharge button with the activities and people that help us to recharge. To be our best selves, we have to regulate our YESs and our NOs.

As the new year begins, it will be a useful exercise to think about your “why,” your purpose, and your goals. Decide what activities you are currently participating in that are not aligned with these things. How might you be able to gracefully bow out or defer? Think hard and clearly about new opportunities. Do they align with your “why”? If so, do you have the bandwidth to accept the task? If not, how do you elegantly say “No, that sounds like a great project and opportunity, but currently I do not have the time…”?

NO is not a negative word. It is an affirmation to your prior commitments. As Jeff Walker wrote in a note to his daughters:

“Every YES must be defended by a thousand NOs.”

Further reading:

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Further viewing:
Thinking about your “Why”: Simon Sinek TED Talk –

Kim Furry, MD
[email protected]


DISCLAIMER: Statements of fact and opinion are the responsibility of the authors alone and do not imply an opinion or endorsement on the part of the officers or the members of WOA unless such opinion or endorsement is specifically stated. Materials may be reproduced only if Touches and the Western Orthopaedic Association are credited.

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