HER take on the Power of No: A conversation with Brooke Fitzgerald

Brooke Fitzgerald

submitted photo
Brooke Fitzgerald submitted photo

Brooke Fitzgerald is a self-described “recovering people-pleasing addict” who’s recently embraced the power of the word “No.”

A few years ago, she owned and operated a coffee shop, the Early Bird Café, in downtown Cedar Rapids. In addition, she was selling commercial real estate and serving on numerous boards and committees when she decided it was time to start doing something she had rarely done — turning down requests for her time and attention.

“In 2018, my word of the year was no,” she said.

But she didn’t start saying no just for the sake of it. She used it as a tool to focus on what’s most important to her.

“Every time you say no to something, you get to say yes to something else,” she said.

Fitzgerald decided to close the Early Bird Café in March 2020 (as luck would have it, right before COVID-19 hit). That gave her time to focus on her new coaching and consulting company, The Restoration Project.

She and Lindsay Leahy offer question-based coaching and mentoring to individuals and companies. Their primary goal, according to Fitzgerald, is to bring out the human side of company culture.

“We tend to forget that we’re all humans working together for the common good,” she said.

Working with clients, she asks questions like, “Who are you at your best self?” and “What does success mean to you?” to spark meaningful conversation.


She also encourages clients to set priorities, which will ultimately lead them back to that all-important word — yes.

“If you aren’t crystal-clear on your priorities, you won’t know what you’re supposed to be saying yes to,” she said.

To sort out your priorities, Fitzgerald recommends asking three simple questions:

What do I want?

Why do I want it?

How will I achieve it?

Once you have a clearer picture of your priorities, Fitzgerald encourages asking four questions to assess each new request of your time:

Do I truly want to do this?

What do I personally gain out of doing this task or attending this event, etc.?

What has the person asking done for me lately?

What will I do if I don’t say yes?

Allowing yourself the time and space to ask those questions will ensure that you’re saying yes to things that are right for you, according to Fitzgerald.

Of course, it can be challenging to say no, especially if the person making the request is your boss. That’s why Fitzgerald talks to clients about establishing boundaries at work.

“You have to be confident in your self-worth. You also have to have honest conversations with your coworkers and boss,” she said. If you have 10,000 things on your plate, Fitzgerald recommends figuring out the amount of time you have, the number of tasks you have to complete, and talk with your team about what can realistically be accomplished.

If it feels awkward (and it probably will), Fitzgerald said it’s because we tend to get stuck in the mode of always saying yes. It can feel easier to say yes, at least in the short term. But eventually, it causes a buildup of resentment.

“Somewhere along the line, we’re taught that ‘no’ is a bad thing and that we’re going to be rejected if we say it,” Fitzgerald said.

Even trickier is saying no without providing an excuse.


Fitzgerald admits she confidently says no to anything that falls on a Sunday — the day she’s reserved for time with her family — or after 7 p.m. on weeknights.

She thinks we all should feel more freedom to say no to a request that doesn’t feel right.

“I don’t need to have an excuse. No is a complete sentence,” Fitzgerald said.

Quotes about saying ‘No’

“When you say ‘Yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘No’ to yourself.” — Paulo Coelho

“To be happy is to wisely use the power of saying ‘No’ to some people. Don’t be afraid to disappoint people who only conveniently remember you when they want something from you.” — Dodinsky

“Saying ‘No’ can be the ultimate self-care.” — Claudia Black

Books on saying ‘No’

“The Art Of Saying No: How To Stand Your Ground, Reclaim Your Time And Energy, And Refuse To Be Taken For Granted (Without Feeling Guilty!)” by Damon Zahariades

“The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness” by James Altucher

“How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty: And Say Yes to More Time, and What Matters Most to You” by Patti Breitman

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