How to confidently set boundaries [+ BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!]

In last week’s newsletter I shared with you a very personal dream I had recently that brought me to tears (and apparently many other readers as well) about the importance of creating meaningful moments in your life (here’s the newsletter if you missed it). While everyone’s circumstances, goals, and definitions of what is meaningful to them will no doubt differ wildly, there is one constant that applies universally:

If you want to fill your life with meaningful moments, you must be willing to set boundaries.

The days are most likely gone where I’m carrying my kids to bed (at least without it causing a massive hernia), watching Pixar movies during Friday “movie night,” or playing Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. While the thought of this naturally makes me sad, what I don’t feel is any guilt. The reason I don’t feel any guilt is because by and large I have been present for all of the most important moments in my kids’ lives up to this point, and after experiencing my “Why doesn’t Daddy love us?” moment via FaceTime I’ve spent the last seven years putting my kids to bed in person 85% of the time (which was true even before Covid).

I’ve been able to balance a very demanding career in Hollywood, building a coaching business, and being a present father & husband (not to mention becoming a ninja warrior) because I unapologetically set boundaries in every facet of my life and use the single word that is the biggest determinant between designing a life you fall in love with versus living on someone else’s hamster wheel:

That magical word is “No.”

The Hardest ‘No’ Of My Career (So Far)

I’ve always thought it would be a cool idea to create a résumé of the work I didn’t get because the gigs I’ve turned down over the years (or those that didn’t hire me) are just as important to my career path as the actual experience on my résumé.

To be clear: I am incredibly grateful for every opportunity that comes my way and don’t take any of my success for granted. But my credit list (and most importantly my network) were very carefully curated with a lot more no’s than yes’s over the last twenty years. And recently I’ve had to confront the biggest ‘no’ of my career (at least so far).

I can’t say what the specific show is (yet), but needless to say if I traveled back in time 10 years and told my past self what I just turned down last week, I’d punch myself in the face…multiple times. It’s an extremely high profile show for Netflix that is 100% in my wheelhouse creatively, it perfectly fits my editorial style and voice, the people I would work with are AMAZING, and it would pay my full editor rate on top of everything else.

So why isn’t this “opportunity” my dream job, and why am I such a moron for turning it down?

Because as wonderful as this project is, it’s not an “opportunity” to me. And the reasons are very simple:

  • The underlying theme of the show doesn’t align with my purpose or the stories I want to be a part of.
  • The schedule would force me to continue putting my most important goals on hold (e.g. running my coaching program and building upcoming workshops & courses)

And most importantly…

  • The lifestyle of the job (i.e. the hours, deadlines, etc) would prevent me from creating (and being present for) the most meaningful moments in my life…for like a year.

All of the above made a seemingly dream opportunity an instant “no” for me.

I’ve since been asked THREE. MORE. TIMES. if I can make myself available. And each time I politely, kindly, and very apologetically decline because deep in my heart my intuition says that it’s not the right fit.

How to Overcome the Fear of Saying ‘No’

I’m not saying that setting boundaries and telling people no is easy. In fact it’s absolutely terrifying!

  • What if I turn down a gig and they never call me again???
  • Aren’t I obligated to accept a job if it’s offered to me?
  • Saying no (or even just asking for help) makes me look weak. Shouldn’t I be able to do it all?

But with each reluctant ‘yes’ you are slowly (or maybe not so slowly) digging a hole deeper and deeper that gets you farther and farther away from a life filled with meaningful moments.

  • Saying yes to a gig that you’re not interested in creatively…
  • Saying yes to extra hours, nights, and (unpaid) weekend work…
  • Saying yes to impossible deadlines and refusing to ask for help when you know you need it…

…can all inevitably lead down the path to burnout (or even worse).

Having workshopped this topic with many of my Optimizer coaching students in countless Hot Seats, I thought it would be helpful to share a few tips on how to confidently and courageously say ‘no’ to the wrong “opportunities.”

How to make sure saying no doesn’t burn a bridge

First of all, I know that emotionally it’s scary to say no. But logically is it realistic to believe that you will burn a bridge with a potential client, collaborator, or company simply because your skills & services are in demand? Of course not! In fact what I’ve found is that the less available you are, the MORE people want to work with you! It’s just like dating where if you ask someone out and they turn you down, you just want them more. And on the flip side if saying no does burn that bridge, is that a bridge you ever want to cross again anyways? Two words: Red. Flag.

The simplest way to ensure that you maintain a relationship when you’re not available (or you’re just not interested), is expressing how much you enjoy working with this person, but “unfortunately right now I’m not available.” Yup, it’s that simple. (And by the way, it’s okay to say no even if you don’t have another job lined up.)

BONUS: If you really want to maintain this relationship, do the legwork of helping them find someone just as good as you (or even better). If you help them find someone else, they’ll be more likely to reach out to you in the future because even if you’re not available you can make their lives easier by helping them find someone who is available.

How to overcome the feeling you should say yes to anything offered to you

It is not your obligation to accept a job just because it is offered to you. Furthermore, it is not your obligation to accept a job on the spot just because you did a job interview. I’ve been shocked by how many of my students ask me, “Is it okay to turn down a job after I already interviewed with them?”


This is your life, these are your choices, and most importantly these are YOUR. MOMENTS. You have permission to unapologetically say no to projects (and people) who are not in alignment with your goals, your values, and your purpose.

The simplest way to overcome this fear is to be 100% crystal clear about the direction your life is headed next. The clearer you are on your goals, the easier it is to turn down “opportunities” that don’t align with them.

Remember if you don’t have a plan, you simply become a part of someone else’s plan.

How to overcome the fear that saying no makes you look weak

Beyond job opportunities themselves, saying no can be terrifying once you’re on the job but expectations change. You may have signed up for one thing, but inevitably deadlines change, the work becomes more intense, people leave the team unexpectedly, etc etc etc.

When the time comes that more responsibilities are put upon you and you are asked the seemingly simple question, “You all good?” it’s 100% acceptable to respond with No!!!!!!!!

I know for many setting this boundary is the most difficult one, and very rarely are people able to do so until they’ve made this mistake the wrong way and learned their lesson. But my hope is that via my newsletter and podcast you can learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others to avoid traps like this in the future.

And yes, even the best of us at the highest levels in the industry struggle with saying no…which I discuss in my latest podcast interview with Top Gun: Maverick editor Eddie Hamilton, ACE.

Wait, what????


That’s right, the Optimize Yourself podcast is (finally) back! And this week I’m releasing not one, not two, but THREE new episodes.

Click here to subscribe and catch the new episodes

And if you prefer to watch instead of listen, the podcast is now on YouTube!

Click here to subscribe to my YouTube channel

I have even more announcements coming soon, so stay tuned for a lot more cool new stuff to come. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Be well.
Zack Arnold
Creator, Optimize Yourself

photo of Zack Arnold

P.S. Below are a few additional resources from the archives to help you better manage and set the right boundaries in your life.

Saying No as a Strategic Chess Move In Your Career Path | with Michelle Tesoro, ACE

Why Essentialism Is Necessary (But Insufficient) | with Greg McKeown

The Importance of Setting Boundaries, Advocating For Yourself, and Asking For Help | with Janace Tashjian

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”