Raise Your Hand And Say “No” This Holiday Season

Raise Your Hand and Say "No" This Holiday Season

As we enter the thick of the holiday season, there is an ever increasing pressure to give, accommodate, compromise, and agree. But what if the best give you could give yourself (and thereby other people) was to raise your hand and say “No.”

Not me.

Sorry, can’t.

You’ll have to find someone else.

Not for me.

Not feeling it.

You’re welcome. Year-round and from birth, we are conditioned to be giving and selfless. The more we say “yes” and participate, the more we are rewarded — whether it’s at work, at school, in our families, or in extra-curricular activities. Over-commitment is the path to overachievement which is the sanctioned path to success and praise. This pressure is magnified during “the holidays” when additional civic, social, and familiar duties mount.

We open our hearts, minds, (and wallets) to “yes.”

And we are miserable.



This time of year, when every charity, distant relative, party acquaintance, or coworkers seems to want a piece of your time, money, or ability to cover them, boundaries can soon become your best friend.

I flubbed this on a recent trip home to Connecticut over Thanksgiving. Alex, one of my best friends from college relocated to the area I grew up in for her first job out of college. She subsequently met and married a local guy, Ted, and much to my delight, they live in nearby West Hartford. I love seeing them when I am back in town.

Saturday, we made plans to eat at a wine bar for early dinner. Also on this Saturday, my mother had mandated the day prior that “we are going to Deborah’s Saturday for a party.”

Fine. Not on the top of my to-do list with my precious PTO, but I like Deborah. Her house is cool and I get along with her kids and cat.

I underscore to my mother that Aaron and I are going to meet Alex and Ted and will be there later. Fast-forward to enjoying dinner with Ted and Alex, mom calls and asks where we are. Deborah’s party has turned magically into a sit-down dinner where twenty other guests are waiting on us to arrive to start. Where are we?


I slightly panic; we finished our meal, got the check, and hustled back to my hometown to scramble to Deborah’s causal get-together-turned-formal-sit down-dinner.

Wrong move.

We cut our time doing what we wanted with our friends during our vacation short and stressfully drove back to my hometown where the hostess, Deborah, and my mom gave two adults shaming tongue lashings on why you shouldn’t be late for a sit-down dinner.

The game changed (casual get together to sit down dinner), and I just noddingly went along with it while this was sprung on me in the middle of enjoying my previously non-conflicting plans. Why? Because doing what you’re told to and asked to is the right thing to do, right? Complicity and always staying the course.

We had already eaten, the dinner lingered on, it was just in no way aligned with what I had wanted or planned for the evening. Not fun. What should I have done?

“Mom, it seems like the plan has changed from a casual, drop-by style get together to a sit-down dinner. Though we appreciate the invitation, this does not fit in with what Aaron and I had planned for tonight. We have already eaten with Alex and Ted and are still enjoying our conversation. We had these plans already, and I do not feel it is right, nor that I need to cut them short because of the sudden change in format for Deborah’s party. We are 25 minutes away, and I do not want to be rude by holding up people further or arriving late,” andddd because we all have to have some compromise in us.

“If it is okay with Deborah, we will join you for dessert or coffee when we are done here.” (Or best yet, never let others speak on behalf of you when it comes to your availability).

Instead of absorbing blame, shame, and panic, I really could have restated my stance, my wants, and re-set expectations. Does the above sound douchey? Hardly. Did I feel douchey racing in late to this dinner party after having already eaten and leaving my friends? You bet.

I remember my first experience setting firm, direct boundaries quite well. I remember well because it was this past July. Yes, it took that long.I was a contract writer for a since-closed publication. I loved writing there, and the Editor-in-Chief was a good friend and mentor. As a result, I often picked up extra stories-no sweat. Someone pinged our writers GoogleGroup asking for coverage to review three plays at an upcoming festival. I don’t recognize the name, but figure she’s new. I agree to cover one out of the three plays.

AnnoyingFace*: “Great! What about the other ones? I need all three covered. Pretty please!”
CG: “I can’t sadly. I have a client at 5 pm Friday.”
AF: “Aw a client at 5pm? That stinks!

I will send the details. Say you are with “X Publication” and you’re going for me.

You can’t be late because they won’t let you in. Article about the show need to be done as soon as possible. That night or by noon the next day. I’ll send you some sample write-ups. Send the article to me so I can fix it up. You will get credit for the article. 🙂

Thank you!!!”

Wow, so now we have someone asking me a favor, telling me “it stinks” that I cannot cover her for her job because I am gainfully employed and have clients to serve. “And beteedubs please write the article ASAP!”


She proceeds to then ask me for a headshot and bio. It turns out, she does not even work for the publication I am contracted with, but just poached our group to get someone to cover for her.

Going sideways. Fast.

CG: “Hi AnnoyingFace:

I work for myself so having clients actually never stinks 🙂

Is this not for X Publication? I was under the impression that since it went to our Y Publication group it was. I’m fine writing things up for X Publication, but I don’t have the same exchange with this organization.

I don’t really have any background on what this organization is or what I’m expected to write, so I can’t really confirm that I’m aligned with it.

I’m happy to hear more information, but with the deadlines, different publication, and now needing a new bio, this is snowballing into something I didn’t expect.”

She persists. I end up declining. Being a stranger’s CYA on a 12-hour deadline is not what I am signed on for. Though, a lesser more malleable version of myself may have caved “to be nice.”

AF: “But it would be SUPER opportunity to get you exposure for your business!”

I am not positive AnnoyingFace has my best business interests at heart.

“It’s for a great cause!”, “It will really help me out!”, “It won’t take too much time!”, “It will really help YOU”, and worst of all, “Pretty please!” are all common retorts AnnoyingFace used in July, but we hear year-round and more so during the holidays when others are making oblique demands on our resources.

When we accept experiences, people, assignments, and events that are not aligned with us it doesn’t buoy our holiday spirit. It torpedoes it.

During this stressful time, don’t forget to root into your own feelings and desires. It should be a time of comfort for you as well.

Yes, you CAN skip that fourth party of the night, your neighbor’s kids wrapping paper fundraiser, your high school reunion, buying a gift for someone just because they awkwardly got you one, SantaCon, your office white elephant, covering for your coworker who wants to bounce out the day before Christmas eve, or leave early for their kid’s pageant. Really, you can skip anything you want. With a little finesse, assertiveness, and clarity, trust me, you will NOT be the Grinch for doing so.

*Name changed to protect the most annoying of faces.

Image via Unsplash

Email this to a friend


Caroline Gould is a personal branding expert and career consultant based in Washington, D.C. Her signature program is called Self Discovery School. She also writes a weekly advice column on Post Grad Problems. Submit your question or find out more on

25 Comments You must log in to comment, or create an account

Show Comments

For More Photos and Content

Latest podcasts

Download Our App

Take PGP with you. Get

New Stories

Load More