You’ve probably been there. If you’re an introvert, you most certainly have. It’s inevitable that you have, and will, receive numerous invitations to attend a party, function, networking event, or mixer, and more often than not you’ll know deep in your bones that you don’t want to go.
Feelings of anxiety and guilt will likely kick in, and you’ll find yourself in a mental tug-of-war between what you want/need to do and your feelings of obligation towards others. We’re exhorted to ‘suck it up’ so as not to let anyone down.
We live in a ‘yes’ world. Or rather, we’re expected to say yes more often than we say no. Saying no comes with negative connotations. If you decline to attend a networking event you’re letting yourself and your career down. If you don’t attend the 300+ guest wedding, you’re a terrible friend. If you don’t want to meet up with a group for a morning walking session, you won’t be invited again and you’ll become a social outcast.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it’s better to ‘fake it until we make it’ than risk the potential consequences of saying no. We’re also not always realistic when it comes to predicting what those consequences may be.
By shoving unnecessary guilt to one side, and not dramatising what probably won’t happen anyway, the word ‘no’ can become our strongest ally.
When I ran a fashion and style website I often travelled in order to network. I had almost daily meetings with designers, stylists, jewellers, and publicists. I went to product launches, cocktail events, and collection viewings. At first, it was bearable, largely due to my telling myself it was absolutely essential to the venture that I connect with all of these people. After consecutive days of meetings I became physically and mentally drained, insular, and emotional; a counter-productive state of being when you’re responsible for producing website and social media content every day as well.
I realise now that I would have benefited greatly from scheduling my meetings and events further apart, being more selective with which events to attend, or simply declining some altogether. As it was, I neglected my mental and physical wellbeing in order to front up and ‘fake it’. I pushed myself to be a go-getter, initiative-taker, and networking pro because I was convinced that was the only way I could make it. As it happened, I burned out after two years.
With friends and relatives it can be more difficult to say no. A closer personal relationship can mean that feelings may be hurt, and potentially the relationship can take a hit.
How you say ‘no’ is important because ultimately you are teaching people to respect your boundaries.
You’re not obligated to go into detail as to why you’re not going to attend. With people you don’t know very well and/or professional connections a simple “I won’t be able to attend, but thank you for inviting me” is enough. With friends and family, you can likely be far less formal and more forthcoming. In every situation though, remain firm but respectful.
For me, how I handle these situations has become very simple. My decision to accept or decline an invitation of any kind comes down to asking myself this: Will my physical and mental wellbeing be negatively affected if I attend?
To be blunt about it, my wellbeing comes first. Selfish? If you like. Do I feel bad about it? No. It has taken many years to get here and believe me, I learned the hard way. By saying ‘no’ more often I preserve my energy for the really important people and events. It also means that if I am mentally and physically healthy I can be there when I’m really needed.
For that, I will happily say no to a party or two.
Share your story. Do you find declining social/work invitations easy to do or do you find yourself attending more events than you would like?