Spoiler alert: I’ll totally create another post soon that’ll be about saying yes. But! That’s a different thing. You’ll see. For now, let’s focus on “no”.
So. We had this intern at work. Not in my team but in a different one. I needed some help in a project with stuff that, well, was easy, boring, administrative, time-consuming; stuff that slowly kills all your braincells if you do it longer. I’m not saying I’m too good for that stuff, I already do do a lot of brainless activities, but this particular task was perfectly suited for an intern. My manager agreed with the intern’s manager that she’d handle the task, I had a briefing with her and thought everything was fine. And it was, until it wasn’t. A few weeks after she sent an email to her manager copying me saying “I do not have the capacity for this. Someone else will need to do it.”
Let’s review what just happened. She said no, NO, she won’t do it. The fuck. Also, side note: the timing was a bit suspicious; I had just logged off for a holiday break and my manager had just left for hers…so, the timing…slightly suspicious, convenient, conflict-avoidant, sneaky? AND she said someone else would have to do it fully knowing that someone would be me……..
Here’s the internal emotional storm that followed in my mind: “WHO THE FUCK does she think she is!?!? She’s an intern. AN INTERN. She doesn’t get to have “capacity” issues. And saying no to me?? Does she even understand I’ve defended her to other people, coached her, involved her in a global project, discussed future assignments that would look great in her CV? No. Fuck her and her “capacity”. Ungrateful little…” Well that’s the summary of it. The whole storm lasted for quite a bit and entailed me stomping around my apartment, angrily rolling my eyes and throwing my hands in the air, re-reading her email every 2 minutes and using all the swear words I know, in multiple languages. And. AND! I was really really hoping I was one of those people who just speaks their mind and expresses whatever they are feeling. But I’m not. I’m not one of those people. I did not tell her off or call her manager. What I do well though, is a mastery level of passive aggressiveness and Siberia-like coldness. I stopped talking to her, only replied with a bare minimum of words to her questions, and stopped calling her to check in, coach or advice her – none of that I-care-for-you-and-support-you -shit anymore. She was cut off. How very mature of me – I know! #proud
It did get me reflecting though. Can I really be mad at her? Sure, the timing was suspicious, and it allows me to paint a very bitchy picture of her. But I don’t know what she had on her plate. I’m not responsible for her workload. I do know she was dealing with some personal stuff. It could really be that she did not have the capacity to complete everything – and should I then force her to do something she couldn’t cope with? That would make me the bad guy in this scenario, wouldn’t it.
It is an interesting thing to reflect on. Saying no to work. Setting boundaries and other priorities. Is that what people do? Is that a thing now? Saying no to work? Can they get away with it? What happens after? I have so many questions… I go back to my ten years of professional career. 10 years ago I was an intern. I couldn’t imagine saying no; I did things people wanted and needed – quicker, faster, more efficient. I anticipated what they might ask next and took care of it before they got to asking, thought about what they might need and how we could improve things or create new, better ones. I would not say no.
I did have a pretty quick career progression. But it did come with a price of long evenings, nights, and weekends spent with work, and eventually a burnout. Hmmm…seems like I haven’t learned much from it. Sure, my manager back then and the highly toxic company culture also played a part in my burnout, and one day we’ll come back to it. But. To date I don’t think I ever said no to work assignments. Should I? I guess I could use some downtime and actually enjoy a full weekend every once in a while. Could I? Probably yes. Others sure seem to be able to. Would it impact my role? Probably not. It could even lead to me getting more resources. Would it impact my standing in the company? Also probably not, except for a potential short term hit on my reputation of getting stuff done quickly. Would it allow me to create space for other things in my life than work? Fairly sure the answer is yes.
So. “No” for space? Life over work? Is that what we’re saying? Interesting. Hard to process. Worth a thought.