Stop Apologizing, Learn to Say 'No,' and 7 More Tips for Women's Success at Work

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By Betsy Myers

It took me a long time to learn the magic word: NO.

The next step was learning to say "no" without offering an excuse and/or apology.

To become a habit, this new skill continues to take practice.

However, the benefits are many and have allowed me to rethink the way I spend my time and energy.

Practicing "no" has become quite liberating and has helped me balance what really matters in both my work and life.

As Jim Collins, the author of "Good to Great" puts it, "'Stop doing' lists are more important than 'to do' lists." This new muscle has become my North Star and taught me that by saying "no," opportunities for "yes" moments become possible.

More often than not, women struggle with guilt and not being able to do it all, apologizing and explaining along the way; why we can't accommodate a last-minute work project or why we need to leave a meeting to handle daycare pickup or attend our child's soccer game.

Life is busy. Work is busy. Our minds are busy. Saying no gives us permission to manage our time by eliminating the clutter of unnecessary obligations. We live in a culture that glorifies busy so it is no wonder that we can easily mistake activity for progress.

Learning to say "no" is just one of the many lessons I have learned over my career. We never stop learning and growing if we remain open to new ideas, perspectives and ways to lead our own lives.

Curiosity has fueled my interest in what brings us success and happiness in the workplace, not just from my own experiences of success and failure but of others who have so generously shared their stories. I have always believed that we should not reinvent the wheel, but rather discover and share best practices.

Here's a few lessons learned that could help you get where you want to be:1. Be your authentic self.
Start with an understanding of who you are, what you are passionate about and where you should be: Am I in the right career? Am I in the right job? Do I fit into this culture? Don't try to be someone else because that person is already taken. You become the leader of your life when you step into your true self. Only you can do this critical work to deeply understand you.

2. Show up with a positive attitude.
Be the person others want to be around. Happy and positive people bring tremendous energy and goodwill to an organization. You'll be surprised at how your attitude will affect others, as well as yourself.

3. Be thoughtful and strategic about your success.
No matter where you land in your career, it is up to you to figure out how to succeed. Learn the culture of both your company and the people around you. Take time to understand the mission of the organization and your department.

Figure out how to bring value to your job, your department and your boss. It is irrelevant if you love your boss – what matters is how you help him or her succeed. If you keep this in mind, you will never lose.

4. Do what you say you'll do.
Build trust by following through on your commitments. Be wise and realistic about what resources and time are needed to deliver on a commitment. It is easy to overpromise with the best of intentions. However, it is those who under promise and over deliver that will win in the end. This is where saying "no" comes in handy!

5. Practice positive self-talk.
A negative internal dialogue can slowly chip away at your confidence. This takes practice, but life is so much sweeter when you choose to look at your career and life from a place of appreciation rather than complaint.

6. Network, not just online but in person.
Networking can make us uncomfortable but everything we accomplish in life is because of our network of relationships. Social media does not replace face-to-face human connection. No one can support or advocate for you if they don't know you or what you do.

Make time for, and be strategic, about relationship building and remember that connections can happen anywhere: at the office, in a coffee shop, in the elevator. Cultivating your network must be part of your schedule and routine. More importantly, don't be afraid to use your connections.

7. Be a mentor to others, especially women.
I wouldn't be where I am without people who were willing to teach me not just about my career, but about life. I have learned that sometimes the smallest insight, suggestion or positive feedback can make the difference for someone's career. Reach for mentors and be a mentor at every stage.

8. Stop living an inbox life.
There's a constant stream of requests coming in at work and at home. It is easy to spend most of our time reacting to others' needs. Living an outbox life is prioritizing what is most important. This habit is life changing and will enable you to feel more in charge of your time and your career.

9. Don't let fear hold you back.
Our fears can be crippling but also give us our most important lessons. An Eleanor Roosevelt quote that guides me is "Do the thing you fear most." I believe the things we fear most are actually the lessons we must learn.

Often women tell me that they are not leaders. My response is always the same: "Each of us is a leader because at the very least, we are leading our own life."

When we look at our life this way, it takes victim out and puts personal responsibility in. By taking the lead of our lives without apologizing and learning to say "no," we make room for what truly matters.

Betsy Myers is the founding director of The Center for Women and Business at Bentley University and author of "Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You."
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