Appearing on the latest episode of Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place podcast, Alicia Keys revealed the piece of advice she received from Oprah Winfrey which taught her the power of saying “no” and setting boundaries.
Alicia Keys has had her fair share of success throughout her career. Since the release of her debut album Songs In Minor in 2001, the musician, singer and actress has won a total of 15 Grammy awards, and achieved countless hits with songs such as Girl On Fire and No One.
But this success hasn’t come without some sacrifices – as Keys revealed on the latest episode of Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place podcast.
Having found herself saying “yes” to every opportunity her agent threw at her at one point in her career, Keys explained how she reached a point of exhaustion – and learnt a lesson about the importance of setting boundaries.
“I would be so overwhelmed or overworked – I was just saying yes to everything and then I’d be exhausted,” she explained. “And there’s no joy – it steals your joy.”
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Why setting personal boundaries is so very important
Reflecting on a piece of advice she had been given by Oprah Winfrey, Keys explained how setting boundaries – and learning when to say no – had helped her to cope with the feeling of overwhelm she was getting when it came to her work.
“That was a big lesson that actually Miss Oprah shared with me,” she told Cotton. “She said to me that she had also experienced that and she was also always looking outside of herself for the answer, and she finally realised that she’s the only one that really knows herself, and the only ones who truly know what’s good for us is only us.”
Keys continued: “She started to say, ‘you know what a resounding yes feels like’. Today, that sounds so obvious, and so like ‘yeah, duh’ but in that moment no one had ever explained it so simply to me.
“It means that, if someone presents you a question, you know right away when it’s like ‘hell yeah, I’m dropping everything and I’m doing that’ and you know right away when you’re like ‘I don’t know about that’. And if you don’t know about that? You don’t have a resounding yes.”
Speaking about setting boundaries between her personal and professional lives, Keys said she didn’t understand that she could say “no” – and that she now realises learning how to do that is incredibly important.
“I do think boundaries are amazing. I didn’t have any, I had none. I had no boundaries, I didn’t know how to put them in place. In fact, I gave them away willingly, happily, gratefully, just to hopefully go to maybe the next step or what I thought was closer to what I was hoping for, or what I thought would make whomever – you know, doors open or possibilities come in regards to my career as an artist,” she explained.
“I didn’t understand that you could say no. It took me so long to know on tour I could say, ‘Oh this is someone special to me’s birthday. Let’s make sure that I’m not working on that day’. I didn’t even know how to do that. I didn’t even realise that I could. I think things like that in regards to boundaries are really important.”
Achieving a balance between your career and personal life can be challenging, but learning to value the word “no” is something all of us could benefit from.
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.