This week I was asked to lead a hike.

I politely declined. I do not want to be responsible for someone getting lost in the mountains, breaking a limb, or suffering a heart attack. I don’t even want to be responsible for someone having a great time.

After all, I’m a city chick. I would gladly lead a tour of Lower East Side bars or teach a workshop on robots. But navigating people in a land where rattlesnakes exist is not my jam.

When I worked in corporate life, we played a trust-building “simulation game” involving the outdoors, my team insisted I lead. I “killed” the whole group. I know my limits.

But this is not a diatribe about my outdoor survival skills. It’s about how, after living five or six decades, we should all know when and how to say no. Politely. Even humorously. But no means no — especially as we get older and need to commit to spending our time doing things we’re passionate about.

It’s not easy. It takes confidence and practice. And sometimes the answer is “not now” rather than a flat-out NO.

I often have seemingly good ideas or get compelling offers that tempt me to say yes, but I need to look at them relative to everything else on the yes list and ask myself if I really have time and brain space for something new. I had coffee yesterday with a very wise man who suggested I use an app like Asana to put those shiny objects in my parking lot. (I will always say yes to new tech gizmos, gadgets, and apps because they often save time and make my life easier in the long run — unless they take hours to master).

If you Google “Say No” you’ll find 6 billion (no exaggeration) hits on the topic — compared to 2 billion for “Say Yes.” Either people really have a problem saying no or it just happens to be a super-popular topic. In any event:

  1. Learn to say no to those things that will keep you away from your primary focus.
  2. Distinguish between “absolutely-not-no-way-in-hell-even-if-I-live-to-be-150” rejections and “maybe-I-will-do-this-one-day-but-not-today” declines.
  3. Be polite yet firm.
  4. Don’t say yes if you really mean no. Or, if you change your mind, be clear about that. Ghosting and lying are never cool.
  5. If you need to say no in business, but you know someone who might say yes, pass the name along. Referrals are good karma actions.

As we age, we need to be a little more careful about those things we say no to simply because we had a bad experience once many years ago. Or, because we are afraid to try something new.

If you’re going to put something in your parking lot (cloud-based or paper journal), be sure to start the ignition every now and then.

By saying no more often, you free up time to say yes to real opportunities. And remember…

“Just saying yes because you can’t bear the short-term pain of saying no is not going to help you do the work.”

Seth Godin


  • Nancy A Shenker

    The Silver Hair Playbook: How to Be a Bad Ass >50™

    Nancy A. Shenker is a marketing innovator, brand builder, writer, speaker, and self-proclaimed rule breaker. Over the course of her 40-year business and marketing career, she has been a C-level executive, an entrepreneur, and a mentor to hundreds of small businesses at all stages. Founder of theONswitch marketing, Nancy was formerly a senior executive for major consumer and business brands, including Citibank, MasterCard, and Reed Exhibitions. She has written four books, and publishes a women’s entrepreneur community (, as well as AI/machine learning/robotics site and travel and lifestyle site She also wrote a column for called Bots & Bodies (about the human side of tech) and is a contributor to a wide range of consumer and business media. She recently won the "Killer Content Award" for a major project for a fast-growing technology company.