Keep Yourself Sane and Happy: Learn to Say No (Nicely)

“You must save yourself before you lose your desire to want to make a piece of toast for breakfast, let alone teach a class or conduct a rehearsal.”
— Lois Guderian, MENC Choral Mentor

Ever feel overwhelmed by an extraordinarily heavy workload and numerous extracurricular commitments? Here’s what one MENC member handled at one point:

  • teaching more than 15 general music classes
  • directing an honors choir, a concert choir, two show choirs, and a regular mixed choir
  • directing the school spring musical AND directing two local community theater productions, one of which is a full staged musical
  • spending most evenings working on school materials
  • singing in the local church choir and sometimes directing it
  • having no free time to take continuing education
  • feeling obligated to take on these activities due to length of time in the community and at the school.

    Other members provided generous advice to this over scheduled colleague.

    Chorus Mentor Lois Guderian insightfully remarked:

    “Teacher burnout is a very real condition with symptoms and consequences. Music educators tend to be very sharing people who want to do all and be all to anyone and everyone who has a desire to learn music. It is hard to say ‘no’ to new projects.

    “Besides giving up some of your responsibilities to other musicians, you can try to delegate duties and build a support group from parents, students, choral members or others to help with the non-musical responsibilities of your work.

    “You can also nurture musical help with others. Yes, this also takes time, but in the long run you will have help and the satisfaction that comes from seeing others bloom in these positions. Many people enjoy having responsibilities.

    “Depending on your family situation, where you live, etc. a complete change of jobs might be something to consider as well.”

    MENC member Christine Nowmos also chimed in:

    “Just because you’ve done something for several years doesn’t mean that you’re stuck doing it forever. You have to learn to say no sometimes, and try not to feel guilty about it. If it’s important enough to the community or to the school, somebody will step in to take over the responsibilities.

    “Stress really gets to all of us sometimes, sometimes it feels completely overwhelming. Do not be afraid to give up a few things …. your life should not be so overwhelming that you feel like you can’t deal with everything.

    “You have a right to your life! It’s your life and you should be able to choose how much or how little you take on.”

    –Sue Rarus, March 23, 2011, © National Association for Music Education