I have a problem with saying no, even when I should. This tendency used to serve me well. As a college swimmer, I rarely missed a day of practice. One cold January afternoon, I went to swim practice without eating because I didn’t have time. My coach nearly had to fish me out of the pool. I collapsed on a bench and he gave me a chocolate Chewy granola bar. After the requisite five minute break, I jumped back into the pool.
Despite my conviction that this was a good trait, I burned out and quit swimming in both high school and college. I did not want to keep repeating this pattern in my work.
At Pratt and Whitney, I barely brought my laptop home for the first few months. However, this job required travel, so I was bound to yes to months-long stints in other states. After I was sent to Tennessee for 4 months, I demanded a return to Connecticut. My managers actually obliged me and sent me home. I felt like I had lost four months of my life, but I was able to reclaim my boundaries.
I was not as successful at my next job, though I tried. My major battle was with answering emails. It was mandatory that my work email was accessible on my phone. In an effort to stay sane, I set my phone to manually update, so I wouldn’t see notifications about work emails unless I clicked on the icon. Once an evening, I would check it and respond to anything I thought was necessary. It seemed reasonable to me, until my lead engineer sat me down and calmly explained to me that I must answer the President’s emails, at any time of day, within an hour. Saying no was not an option if I wanted to keep my job.
Eventually, I said no emphatically and moved to another job. At the new job, I ran into the same issue. My boss told me that I could work flexible hours. I would come in at 6:30am and leave around 3:00pm to avoid the hellish traffic between West Seattle and Redmond. Then that was deemed unacceptable because every else worked more than 8 hours. Silly me, wanting to work 40 hours a week…? My little “nos” did not work here either, so eventually the big “no” came out and I quit.
It seemed like every time I constructed a reasonable boundary, the company that I worked for tried to demolish it.
So I looked for a job where I could set my own boundaries and found Uber. I was excited by the total freedom in my schedule. I could work the exact hours that I felt like working, no more, no less. With this level of freedom, I thought it would be easy to say “no.”
But it was still hard at first.
For the first week, I never declined a fare. I knew from looking at my ratings that declining a fare was bad, so I tried to never do it. My finger popped the screen and I jumped from one rider to another until my bladder was about to explode. Then I discovered that it was acceptable to just go offline (no ratings impact), so I did that.
It was still hard to say no.
Uber sends out messages when you try to go offline in an effort to make you feel guilty or inspire you. My least favorite is “You more money last week at this time than this week. Make $17.64 to catch up!” But I had committed to saying no, so I hit “go offline” anyway.
For days, I waited for the hammer to fall. What would happen if I didn’t do what Uber wanted to me to do? After about a week of going offline when I wanted to, I finally realized that there was little consequence to say no. I lost out on a few dollars, I suppose. But I wanted my freedom more.
On Friday night before Halloween, I got a text message from Uber about the high demand, asking me to go out and drive. I just laughed. I told my boyfriend that I would not be setting down my wine and stopping our movie to go drive around in the dark.
Finally, I have a boss that takes no for an answer.