Why professional women should listen to toddlers

As women we are wired to say “yes”. We want to be all things to all people at all times. We pride ourselves on being exceptional multi-taskers who can exist on very little sleep, and have no limits to how much we can accomplish in a single day. We truly believe we are Wonder Woman and can do it all, and we can do it all by ourselves…otherwise known as the “Competency Curse”.

We are genetically designed and evolutionarily equipped to perform a variety of roles with a variety of responsibilities on a daily basis. Since cavemen (and cavewomen) roamed the earth, men have been the hunters and women have been the gatherers. Evolution and societal roles have hard-wired multi-tasking into our DNA…we can’t help ourselves.

This “I can do it all!” attitude may have been critical to the survival of civilization, but as we moved out of the caves and into more complicated lives, this attitude also needs to evolve.

The reality is that we can’t “do it all”, or at least we can’t do it all very well. Women say “yes” to so many things that we get overloaded, overwhelmed and feel deeply underappreciated. Spreading yourself too thin in the workplace and assuming an unrealistic amount of additional responsibilities is one of the fastest ways to kill a career.

Surprisingly, toddlers actually possess the key to success. That’s right, that little monster running your life holds the key. Toddlers have the innate ability to say “no” — willingly freely, and frequently — to almost anything without reservation or hesitation.

Unfortunately, that ability diminishes as we age. We say “yes” far too often when we really should be saying “no”. It’s time to take a lesson from the “terrible twos”, and embrace the power of a single two-letter word.

The following five benefits of saying “no” will empower women to pull on those “big-girl panties” and take control of their careers. They are written from my experience as a successful career coach and shared in my book, Woman UP! Overcome the 7 Deadly Sins that Sabotage Your Success.

Greater Clarity

When you say “no” to extraneous activities and commitments, it provides greater clarity and allows you to discover what’s really important. Saying “yes” when you really want to say “no” causes confusion not clarity. Trust that when you say “no”, you’re really saying “yes” to a greater opportunity that’s more aligned with your expertise, goals, and values.

Deeper Connections

Developing quality relationships is not only important in our personal lives, it’s imperative to the success of our professional lives. Saying “no” to insignificant and unrelated activities allows us to concentrate our efforts on creating meaningful relationships and an effective network with the people that mean the most.

More Balance

Success is measured not only in the workplace, but also in life. As much as we would like to compartmentalize our lives and keep our work and home lives separate, we can’t. They’re all connected. Committing to fewer obligations enables you to relax, to enjoy more time with family and friends, and to get energized by those activities that bring you joy and feed your soul.

Increased Confidence

Saying “no” and setting clear and intentional boundaries increases your confidence in the workplace. It elevates your authority and people take you seriously. Instead of being perceived as easy to manipulate and overly eager to please, people recognize your authority and respect your decision-making. Stand firm, stay confident, and say “no”.

Faster Success

Saying “no” appropriately and professionally empowers you to expedite and streamline your career path. You can reach your goals faster, more efficiently, and gain greater respect by eliminating, or reducing, the number of irrelevant and time-consuming activities you pursue.

Though we can’t throw a tantrum like a toddler, we can fully embrace the power of saying “no” when it’s connected to conscious, intentional, and mature decision-making. Woman UP! and know when it’s right to say “no”, be confident in your convictions, and you’ll discover the opportunities and actions that truly merit a “yes”.

Aimee Cohen is a career expert, veteran speaker, and author of Woman UP! Overcome the 7 Deadly Sins that Sabotage Your Success.  She is owner of Cohen Career Consulting where, for more than 20 years, she has a nearly 100% success rate empowering women to achieve career success.  Aimee provides strategic step-by-step action plans to clients during personalized one-on-one consultations.  She leads outplacement transition seminars for Fortune 500 companies and is a contributing writer for the Denver Business Journal. She facilitates the LINK to Leadership program for The Leadership Investment, has appeared as a career expert on television and radio shows, and in print media such as Glamour magazine, the Denver Post, and Denver Woman magazine, and she was a past nominee for Outstanding Women in Business Award from the Denver Business Journal.

Aimee lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband of 22 years. She has two teenage children. Her son is a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and her daughter is in high school.