The Power of No

Hello Mr. Skeksis - Leontine Greenburg
Hello Mr. Skeksis by Leontine Greenberg
I've been thinking a lot about motivation lately. I was never a really motivated person in a lot of respects so recently it's been a surprise when I find myself more motivated to do things that just a few years ago I wouldn't have.

It's possible that because of this blog and telling people to go out and improve themselves that I have actually motivated myself. Perhaps it's the new writing schedule and frequency to constantly produce new posts that have somehow sparked something in me to want to be better. It could also be that my current job is actually filled with coworkers that I actually socialize with and don't treat me like crap. Either way it's a change for me and the pessimist inside me keeps wondering when I will go back to my old ways.

I think the most powerful and consistent motivator throughout my life has been the word 'No'.

Most people know this situation, and many of us have done it ourselves. When you were a kid did your Mom ever tell you that you couldn't do something, like go out and play with your friends or have candy when you should have been eating your dinner? After being told that you couldn't did you go ask your Dad?

Fast forward to your high school years, when you were a teenager did you ever rebel because you were told not to do something? A teacher telling you not to chew gum in class, your parents (again) telling you not to get facial piercings or tattoos. If my parents told me that they really liked my ears being stretched or that they thought it was cool... Well, I would have seriously given it some thought on stopping. But they expressed their displeasure with it so I went the other direction with it.

There's something  rewarding about completing something that you've been told you can't do. Like playing basketball with friends and someone says that you'll never make a shot from there. Then sinking a basket in their face to prove them wrong.

I imagine that's how a lot of people in accidents feel, if they are told that due to some accident they might never be able to walk again or they might never be able to do a certain activity again, I bet that motivates them to prove people wrong. Being the underdog is great, and 'no' is a powerful motivator.

Recently I've been thinking about this with work. I went into a performance review with a great argument on why I deserved a raise and I had the work to prove my point. My boss and all of my coworkers reviews seemed to agree that I was doing a superior job and he would "see what he could do". A few weeks later I was supposed to have my regular meeting with my boss so I figured I would bring it up with him then so he had the time to talk with whomever he might need to.

Well the meeting has been postponed and I have a feeling that my request has fallen on deaf ears. I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt now and still waiting for our meeting but it seems like it's taking a long time. I'm sure that at some point I will get a raise but having to constantly remind my boss of something I told him was an important matter to me seems like a poor way to handle a situation with an employee. He hasn't said no, if he did I would probably leave the company, but he hasn't said yes either. I like my company, I want to keep working there but at the same time it might not be best for my financial future. I appreciate working there but being underpaid in a fun environment will only keep someone there for so long.

This has motivated me in a different way though. If my employer doesn't match what I think is fair then it motivates me to find a job somewhere else just so I can leave them. I know that they need me more than I really need them at this point, I haven't been there a year but I'm doing the work of about 1.5 people and training the new hires because I am one of the more experienced people on my team. I'm not saying I can't be replaced but it would really put them in a tough position for a while. They haven't even told me no yet but I'm already motivated to find a way to get paid what I think I deserve. I hope that I'm pleasantly surprised when I finally have my regular meeting with my boss but we'll see.

Have you ever been motivated by someone telling you 'no'?


  1. I have experienced that too in High School, the rebellion. My mom doesn't allow me to go out with my friend but I did. Haha. And I enjoyed the company with my friends more than my family. But as of now, my mom is finally okay with it, I am in college already, but I still have my curfew which is until 6pm only.

    1. Hey Hannah, I'm glad you're doing what... what basically all people do growing up, "Sticking it to their parents every once in a while!"

      It's basically a rite of passage in my mind. Everyone does it at some point and it makes for some good stories down the road. College was an interesting time for me because I really had infinite amounts of freedom to do what I wanted, perhaps it might have been better for me if I had someone to check in with more at the time. Either way I survived and I'm doing well now so I didn't do anything too bad. Just make sure that you don't forget that your #1 priority in college is college and I think you will be okay.

  2. So very true...whenever I hear someone say I can't do something, it motivates me to prove them wrong. Nothing beats the satisfaction of making the person that person eat their words. Hopefully your employer gives you the raise that you deserve. I work in government so I have no experience about asking for raises...raises are merely based on seniority or union contract negotiations. In any case, a lot of times the employer needs a little motivation to get them to give you a the a job offer from another company. Good luck!

    1. It's surprising how satisfying it is to prove people wrong when it comes to your abilities, or even just little things. I wonder if there's a word for that feeling.... I guess "vindicated" would be the word that best describes the feeling, it's very rewarding.

      I understand why employers might wait until you get an offer from another company before they try to match it, but personally if it's come to that point already, you've probably already lost me. It really shouldn't take a wake up call to the employer to realize that they want to keep you when you directly ask for what you are looking for.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. No is definitely a motivator for me, even with myself. There are many things I doubt I can do, but then I find great motivation in proving myself (or others) wrong.

    1. Yeah, proving ourselves wrong is a nice motivator too. Learning to be okay with failing is something I have been planning on writing about because good things can come out of failures.

  4. I think this post is not just about "no" but also about knowing you are appreciated and valued through recognition. With work that can tend to be with money. With friendships I find that thoughtfulness and "thanks" are what I truly need to keep me feeling satisfied. It can be frustrating to wait for praise though, no matter what the circumstance is. It can often get us to question our seen importance, no matter how important we may feel in the given situation, and adds to the checklist of "reasons why this may not be the best fit". I hope that your work comes around and sees your value as much as you do.

    1. Sort of, I didn't intend for this post to be about appreciation, I actually have another post half way written about being appreciated at work. Basically it's about the differences of what keeps us satisfied at work versus what makes us dissatisfied with work. They aren't the same things, you may love the culture within the company and that might keep you happy at work. But if you are not happy with your pay then you probably won't stay.

      I have never been too expecting of praise throughout my life. For some reason I never attached much value to words of praise growing up. I think I cared more about actions because in the end I viewed that as what truly mattered. It's like if your friend says they will be there for you but when they don't show up when you are in a time of need then I think that is what matters more.

      Or if a boss tells you that you are doing a great job at something, but then when annual pay raises come along they look for the reasons why they can't give you anything more then I think that's what matters.

      I think my work sees my value that I add, but this will be the first test in our business relationship where I ask for something and we see how they respond. Will they completely ignore me, will they try to give me something minimal to make me go away, or will they seriously consider my request and make an effort to meet me somewhere in the middle.

    2. I was at a job for many years because of their words. Before they came along, I didn't realize how different I was from other employees. I thought I was just a good old hard worker.Their praise and real discussions on my abilities lead me to eventually leave them and head to grad school, though I LOVED working there. To me what good was money (though I was making a good amount) if I wasn't really happy. For me happiness came from truly knowing how I was appreciated, not just actions that could be done for anyone. A pay raise? Yup. People get those. A bump in my position? I am more competent so yup, I can see why that happened too. But it was those sit-down talks of my abilities and worth that got me moving. It got me to see my abilities reached beyond what I thought was normal. We each need something different to motivate us and silence is my number one killer in motivation. I am someone who does a lot for a LOT of people so for me actions without words will be viewed through my own perceptions, which can be wrong.

      If you are only working for a paycheck, then an increase in that paycheck may suite you just fine, but I am constantly working towards growth (not necessarily financial) so for me, discussions are important.

    3. Maybe if I had experiences like that with my past jobs I would feel differently about it. I have had a few jobs where they use positive reinforcement and they praise people for doing a good job. But aside from one of my first jobs none of my employers have particularly helped me grow professionally or make me want to continue to work for them when I could make 20% more somewhere else, that's a big gap of "is your guidance really worth it"

      Now that I look back on my own personal experiences, I can say that more than 50% of my past jobs have told me that I was doing a good job and dangled a carrot in front of me as incentive. They all promised either raises or promotions at a specific point in time. One was in January (new year, new budget) and the other said "after 3 months". Both of those jobs did kept stringing me along, and after over 6 months past the date they told me I decided to leave each company.

      Basically if you promise me something and then you start going back on your word you've lost my professional respect. If I didn't earn the raise then tell me that I didn't perform well enough, that is something I could respect, but if you just pretend you never said it or keep giving excuses as to why they can't now.... I just didn't feel like I could keep working for people like that.

      I think the most annoying part was that in each situation my employer was shocked that I was leaving for a new job and at that point in time tried to give me a pay raise to get me to stay. Had they given me what they had promised to begin with then I wouldn't have left.

      My other jobs I never had the situation come up. But since the track record seems to be that most jobs promise one thing then never deliver I'm not going to start believing them now.

  5. Firstly, I hope you get the pay rise that you deserve!

    Secondly, as you have rightly mentioned, do be mindful that everyone can be replaced at work. I work for a US multinational company, I've heard of people calling the company's bluff, by saying they will leave if they don't get a pay rise or bonus. These have included people who have worked there for 10-15 years. The company has always (without exception) let them go and will suffer for a short while due to the loss of experience but then it just moves on. Strangely though, a few of these people (as long as they don't burn their bridges) have returned to the company some years later, but probably after having negotiated a better salary package!

    Thirdly, the power of 'No' works the other way round too, ie instead of someone telling you 'No', you tell them 'No', ie "No, I shall not work long hours without that pay rise".

    1. I'm very aware that I can be replaced, I don't view myself as the only cog in the machine. I'm also not displeased enough to just walk away with no other job to go to. Though if it came to that, I could afford to take significant time off of work to figure out what I would want to do, it would just set back my early retirement plans a bit.

      I also don't think that my company would fire me for asking for a raise, for some reason I think there are laws against that and they would have to say it was for some other reason which would be interesting to see them make up. My company is also a smaller startup type company so losing an experienced person (who is training new hires) while trying to hire about 6 people per month is not really in their game plan at the moment. Also being laid off wouldn't be the worst, in that scenario I would get unemployment benefits which I already know I could live off of.

      But you're right, if they tell me that they can't do anything more for me then I can stop taking on the overflow work that they have.