Say No Without the Guilt

When someone asks something of you, there are a couple of ways you can respond: Yes or No.

When you say yes to everything, you are probably saying no to yourself and many of your art goals. You are saying that what someone is asking or offering is more important than your agenda.


You can’t even do everything that’s on your list right now, so how do you ensure that your art business remains a priority when so many people are asking for your time?

What’s a Yes To You?

Honor your top priorities. If it's not an absolute YES, it's a NO.
-Cheryl Richardson

Before you turn down opportunities and requests, it’s valuable to know your top priorities. What are your absolute yeses?

I imagine your absolute yeses include some of the following:

• Family: spouse, elderly parents, growing children
• Your art: studio time, learning, creative inspiration
• Self-care: exercise, good eating habits, sleep, spirituality

Is your art business on the absolute yes list? Is it really?

What are you saying yes to that isn’t on the list and is getting in the way of achieving your goals?

There’s Nothing Wrong With Saying No

There are all kinds of reasons you might agree to do something that you don’t want to do or that takes you away from your vision. Most of them are based in fear.

• You’re afraid that someone will be angry or disappointed with you if you say no.
• You’re afraid that you might miss out on an opportunity or on fun.
• You’re afraid of the confrontation and dialogue around saying no.

You don’t want to live a life of fear. You want to be your biggest, boldest self.

Saying no doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a professional adult with vision, goals, and boundaries. These are things that people understand and (mostly) respect.

You have no reason to feel guilty or afraid of the situation. There’s nothing wrong with saying no.

How to Say No

Always begin your reply with a Thank You and end with another Thank You. You were asked to contribute your time or talents because you are admired.

While the request may seem inconvenient for you, it probably was never intended that way. Acknowledge the compliment with your gratitude, while honoring yourself.

Saying no is a practice for many people who have a hard time with the word. So … practice!

Start small and with a thank-you.

Thank you for thinking of me, but I have a big deadline for my show approaching. I can’t add anything else to my plate right now. (That’s a no without actually saying the word.)

Leave out the middle part for other situations.

Thank you for thinking of me, but I can’t add anything else to my plate right now.

Don’t hesitate to speak the truth, especially if it’s something you never want to be asked about again. It might be difficult, but people respect the truth, even if they seem inconvenienced.

And when you’re caught off-guard, use this response:

Let me think about that and get back to you.

[ See How to Handle Donation Requests ]

There’s no reason you have to give someone an answer on the spot. Buy yourself some time to formulate your response.

Whatever you do, don’t over-explain. It’s unnecessary.

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9 thoughts on “Say No Without the Guilt”

  1. Beware of the request wrapped in a complement! We want you to run x because you are: just so organized, you did such a great job last time, everyone thinks you are the best at this, etc. Particularly a problem with artist groups. When I started to say no, it was amazing how many of these activities were dropped because no one else would run them. Lesson learned!

  2. Its tricky to know when to say no because sometimes you can get a lead or a real job out of a “favor”. Either way you do need to know how to say no and believe in your decision.

  3. There is so much value in the lesson of “no”. When something does not align with my art mission I have learned to let it go. I now have more time, focus, resources to create my art which is the mission I am on. After attending your Art Biz Makeover a couple years ago I said “no” to all that was in my way. This has resulted in more time to make more art, more shows, open studios and sales.

  4. A couple of weeks ago, I realized my painting time had disappeared. I got up in the middle of the night and made a list of all the things I could eliminate from my schedule.
    My priorities, as you have guessed, are family, health and art. The next morning I started sending out e-mails resigning from boards and other responsibilities. I have even taken a break from teaching art for the summer. I can’t wait to see the results of resetting my activities to fit my priorities.

  5. Thank you Alyson! You can’t imagine how perfect this is for me today! This is exactly what I needed to hear…And thank you for doing what you do. You are really an inspiration for me everyday. Without your advice, I’ll be still hiding in my studio foverer and ever (which is all I really wanna do. But I think you get that).

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