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  • Eloise Unerman

Learning to be a No Person

I hope the reality is setting in for you all that these pieces about creativity and mental health are as much for me as they are for you.

So, on the subject of self-care and doing things for yourself - this month's post is based off of a very common piece of writing advice, but fuelled by my current experiences with game development.

One of the biggest pieces of advice I got when I started out with writing was say yes to everything - within reason, obviously, don’t say yes if someone asks you to jump off a bridge or wants you to do something that’s just plain wrong.

I love seeing people find something they’re really passionate about - and I especially like it when that thing finds them instead.

Saying yes will take you to interesting places. But learning to say no is important too. To recognise that ‘no’ isn’t damaging, or entitled or indicative of a lack of passion and work ethic and commitment.

You can't serve from an empty cup - meaning you can't dedicate energy to something if you don't have any of it left.

Imagine you've invited friends round for a hot drink - please don't do that right now, the smell of coffee isn't the only thing you'll be inhaling.

Your cup won't always be the same. There'll be times when it's overflowing, and you barely have to tip it to serve a delicious drink. And you can keep refilling those mugs all night.

But sometimes your cup starts to get empty, and you don't want to disappoint your guests. So you pretend there's still plenty in your cup and carry on filling their cups to the brim. You're going to run out before you finish, and both you and your guests are going to be unhappy.

Maybe you started the whole event because you felt like you had to. You've probably got about a teaspoon left, and you've promised these people gallons of coffee and now you're praying it appears. (It probably won't. And, if it does, it might scald you.)

Or maybe your cup's got a decent amount left, but you're making a mess trying to keep all those drinks topped up. You're not doing any of it particularly well, and all your friends feel like this was a flop of a tea party.

Perhaps your cup is about halfway full. And you could take your time, pour out a reasonable drink for your friends while the kettle boils again. But instead you're turning your cup upside down, because you feel like you should push yourself to the max just because you can. You have mililitres in this cup that you're not using, you're lazy and holding back if you don't!

My point is that sometimes you have to change the way you host. Try serving one friend each night. Or explain there’ll be a wait for coffee if you realise you’re running low in the middle of the party. Or pour slower - it doesn’t make you a bad host if there’s a steady stream of coffee.

Tell your guests beforehand that there’ll be no coffee for the first 30 minutes and let them decide if they still want to come round or if they need a drink sooner.

It’s not too late to start learning this lesson and it’s not too late to be hit and miss, to spend time getting it right.

Ask for more information. Find out the scope of the job, what it involves, the timescale. Ask for time to think. Write it down, speak to someone else.

There's a line between 'I don't want to do this/I won't enjoy it' and 'I really want to do this but it would put unhealthy emotional strain on me at the moment'. Figure out where this falls.

I turned down a game development project because I was pretty certain I wouldn't be able to replicate the art style, and the project wasn't something I wanted to be involved with. The guy that reached out to me was also kind of pushy and kept messaging me after I said no. That was an easy no, and clearly on the first side of the line.

A friend approached me about making a game for with similar art style to Hyper Light Drifter. I ended up saying yes because I had about 3 weeks to learn the art style at a slow, unchallenging pace before the project started. What it really came down to was understanding that my anxiety came from a place of fear, fear that I’d fail or get stressed out or be unsatisfied with my work, rather than genuine concern that this wasn’t healthy for me. And that worked out pretty well. Without that time to prepare, I probably would've said no.

It’s okay to ask people to wait or make allowances. If they can make those allowances, that’s great. If they want to look for someone else, don’t worry about them finding someone. There are other creatives out there.

The lovely thing about creativity is that you can recreate some of the opportunities you miss later in some way. Want to work with someone but you’re not in the right position to do the job they’re asking about? Reach out to them later. Want to make a game in a certain art style? Start that project yourself in the future. There are some things you can‘t truly recreate - big, big opportunities - but you can create an experience that has some similar elements. Or get to that place by a different route.


Treat yourself like a celebrity with a busy schedule. Understand that there are other people that do your job, but none of them are you. You may be replaceable, there may be thousands of others who can do the exact same thing. But treat yourself like your work is valuable (because it is), like you’re sought after (because you are if someone is asking). You’re in a position of power in that the decision is yours. Feel that with the air of a distinguished queen turning down one bunch hand-fed grapes because there’ll be another one later.

No matter what you think of your abilities, you deserve downtime. Time spent taking care of yourself isn’t time spent doing nothing. It is a job, it is an activity. It’s a duty to yourself to keep your cup full, because you deserve kindness - even if that kindness comes from you. If you feel like having free time makes you lazy, reframe it. You‘re doing a job - you’re protecting you, guarding your health and your happiness. People who don’t respect the value placed in that aren’t people you want to work with. They don’t care about the servers, just the coffee pouring into their cup.

Be honest with others about your limitations, especially if those limitations take an unexpected turn during the project, but don’t feel like you have to justify them by explaining the complex issues that lead to those limits. Tell your guests you can only give them 2 cups of coffee, but don’t feel like you have to explain to your acquaintances that there isn’t enough instant coffee because you felt too stressed out or low to go pick up some more this week.

You’re not a liability, you’re not just part of a package when others are the whole package. You are valuable, not incomplete.

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Joanne Fearon
Joanne Fearon
Nov 07, 2020

Love what you've written hope you are going to share it on your twitter feed


Joanne Fearon
Joanne Fearon
Nov 07, 2020

Great words one of the first messages I learnt as a mental health first aider can't pour from an empty cup self care is a priority. Lessons learnt in life remove the friends who only take no give.

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