Never thought of yourself that way? Me neither. Until recently, that is, when a coworker watched me struggle to cram another thing into my already-packed schedule and said, “Why are you killing yourself over this? It’s not a big deal to say no,” and my immediate thought was a somewhat violent, YES IT IS.
From after-work events to birthday parties to house-sitting on the weekends, I found myself with a calendar that was filling up and a life that was spiraling out of control. I would never have called myself a people-pleaser, but gosh, was I really so afraid of offending people that I just couldn’t bring myself to say no? How could I stop resigning myself to accept invitation that came my way, stretching myself way too thin in the process?
Can you relate? If so, here are a few truths I’ve had to confront before re-learning how to say no:
Being a yes-woman does not make you selfless. Nor does it make you a good friend, family member, girlfriend, etc. It actually makes you worse at giving of yourself, if you can believe it, because when you’re not taking care of you, you can’t take care of other people. The other day, I was talking to a friend about all the things I’d overcommitted to that week and how I had no idea how I would survive it. Finally, she interrupted, _“Girl, you know how flight attendants tell you to secure your own oxygen mask before helping other people with theirs?”
“Yeah,”_ I answered. She gave me a pointed look.
**Being a yes-woman does not make you selfless.** **It makes you helpless.** It strips you of your freedom be the best you can be at a few things, in the name of doing __more.
So what do you do? Before saying yes, take a deep breath and exhale a “Can I get back to you?” or a “I’ll think about it and let you know.” Then ask yourself the hard question: why do I want to do this? Is it the appeal of the thing itself? Is it to help someone I care about? Is it because I need validation (ouch)? Is it because it makes me feel like a martyr (double ouch)? Think about the why behind your answer. Then decide.
Being a yes-woman does not make you fearless. I used to think that by saying yes to everything, I could become the kind of person I always wanted to be; the brave one, no experience too difficult or too scary to handle. You want me to take on another project in addition to the ten I’m already juggling? I’ve got this. You want me to go where, to do what, for how long? Sure. At least it’ll be an adventure, right? Somewhere along the way, I decided I had something to prove to myself, and my yes-syndrome became my crutch. **It’s taken me years to learn that turning down an opportunity because I simply cannot do everything, does not make me weak.**
So, what’s the solution? If “no” has become a monster in your life, you might need to shift the way you think about it. It takes valor to politely decline. It takes courage to face potential conflict. But you are not obligated to everything, so rather than wallowing in guilt the next time you decline an invitation, celebrate the victory you’ve won in taking ownership of your life. Saying no does not mean you’re less than; it means you recognize the value of your time and energy. Which leads me to…
Being a yes-woman will not make you happy. Over the past several years, I have come to realize that I am happiest when I make time to recharge, relax, press pause for long enough to enjoy simply being obligation-free. It’s not a luxury – it’s a necessity. Who’s going to protect your time if you don’t? I asked myself that question earlier this year. 2016 has been one of the craziest years of my life, so about a month ago, I had to make a new rule: I will reserve one night per week to be kind to my introverted self. My roommate calls this No Company Mondays, meaning I come home from work, make myself dinner, read a book, maybe journal, watch a TV show, and go to bed early. No company. No obligations. Just me. Being a yes-woman has a funny way of filling our schedules to overflowing. If you’re reading this and thinking, I don’t have a fear of saying no, it’s possible that you don’t. Maybe you have a fear of being still. So, what now? ** Make a list of everything that answers the question **“What brings me joy?” Consider the times when you feel like you’re the best version of yourself. Is it when you’re going out of your way to serve someone else? Is it when you’re surrounded by other people? Is it when you’ve taken a day off from seeing anybody? How much do you actually know about what your heart needs to be at peace? If you need a reason to guard your time, remember that if you don’t do it, no one else will.
As with most things in life, undoing our yea-saying tendencies takes time and balance and patience. It’s okay if that looks different for you than it does for me, but my hope for both of us is that one day, when someone says, “Hey, yes-woman,” we won’t even glance up.
Photos by Valerie Denise