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The Gift of Saying No

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

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By Andrea Lynn Cianflone

“Andrea Lynn Cianflone, you’re up next.” I peered up from my score, still feeling under the weather having just recovered from bronchitis. Just a couple weeks prior to the audition, I thought it heroic to blast through the sickness while continuing to practice my daily regimen coughing through exercises of ooo’s and aaa’s. As I walked to the audition door, I took a quick inventory of my body. My throat felt thick. I still had some congestion. I was not 100%. The show goes on, as they say. I sang well, all health things considered, until I was met by measures of silence in the musical phrase that exposed my bronchial tyrant. I coughed. The panel looked up surprised. I kept smiling through my internal disappointment. I finished the song and said my usual ‘thank you’ to the casting directors and left.

A couple days later, the long-awaited email arrived stating that I did not receive the job. I began to psychologically kick myself. Why did you audition Andrea when you were sick? Would it have been so difficult to say no to the audition? You could have presented yourself in better health if you had waited for another time. Now the company has on record its first experience of your voice. You could have avoided the subsequent disappointment. You could have…would have…should have…

Recognizing limitations and asserting my needs has been so instrumental in the people-pleaser syndrome that had me saying yes to everything. Beyond the botched audition, I’d find myself bending over backwards for this or that, giving generously of my time, resources, energy, and gifts. Generosity is admirable but observing your own health decline resulting from boundaryless generosity is not so great. For every inch I gave, I was sucked out ten thousand miles, partly by my doing. Unhelpful were the subconscious sentiments residing in the minds of those who were conditioned to the idea that, “Andrea will get it done.” Sometimes it is necessary to flip the script!

Ever been in a one-sided relationship? Be it a family member, friend, colleague, or romantic partner completing a task or giving a loving gesture, why would the receiving party reciprocate unless a sense of responsibility motivates such a call-to-action? “But Andrea, sometimes situations in relationships don’t always allow for the equal giving and taking of tasks due to circumstances like a crisis, job unemployment, etc.” I would agree. My mode of operating, aside from cheerful giving, is simple: do for others when they are unable to do for themselves. This could include a person who is unable to complete a task by which they have no control over the circumstance (for instance, someone who is gravely ill). Otherwise, the one-sided relationships can leave the giver depressed, or in the wise words of one book I read, “feeling sensitive to the deficiencies of love.” I have long thought that the entertainment industry had a very one-sided relationship with the public. How often we hear of up-and-coming artists who give endlessly of their performance art with little compensation or reciprocation from the greater society. Some immediate examples have become common practice with individuals and companies: remunerating artists grossly under union type rates, the choice to use music without proper licensing, and low artist royalty rates found on streaming platforms. Given the incredible challenges of the past two years and witnessing the closure of major artist management and music publishing companies, I would say it’s a great time to rethink, or say no to, the remuneration systems that are oppressing the industry.

The good news about saying no is that this assertion forces the receiving party to observe its action or inaction, and to ask, is your business practicing ethical behavior or is your relationship expressing love in the best way it knows how? Saying no can often mean saying yes to self-respect. During the heart of the pandemic, I wanted so deeply to do many artistic activities. I was asked by multiple people/companies to volunteer on over fifty singing projects. I said no to all of them because crisis management became the priority, like many business owners pivoting services in a myriad of ways and fighting to stay alive. Part of that management was monitoring my own wellbeing because symptoms of stress had manifested physically. Our bodies and minds give us indicators for saying no when it screams through pain, “stop, you’re hurting me.” I find it crucial to engage in active body listening. The more I have learned the art of assessing my needs and becoming assertive about those needs, the better my wellbeing grew. Instead of walking away quietly, I began to listen to my internal dialogue, speak up against anything from sexual harassment, professional jealousies, narcissistic behaviors, to blatantly inequitable hiring/audition practices in my career line that on more than one occasion cost me financial hardship.

The gift of saying no gives an opportunity for rest. It is my greatest hope that the importance of rest in our society will be a large talking point around the discussion of brain health. A society digs itself a grave when our systems and personal choices fail to support our health and wellbeing: accessing organic foods, price gouging food products, companies overworking their employees, remunerating unfair wages, and certainly acknowledging personal decision-making that can lead to poor results (like not living within one’s means or making unhealthy nutritional choices). We can bear the responsibility of loving each other, but can we consider not bearing the weight of ignorance? We all play a part in some way for the systems that impact the wellbeing of our environments. The gift of saying no often leads to opening a door to “yes”… a yes to happier, healthier living!


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