It was Saturday afternoon, and I was finally done with work for the week. I had finished two huge projects on top of my regular client load, and all I wanted to do was sink into the couch with a frosty beer and Netflix. Then, the phone rang. It was my best friend, and she just had yet another fight with her boyfriend. Obviously, I had to drop my beer and Netflix extravaganza to be there for her.
“Can you come over?” I can, I thought. But I don’t want to. I’m exhausted. I took on way too much this month and I haven’t had a spare moment for myself.
“Sure,” I sighed. I knew that putting on real pants, getting in my car, and being ‘on’ was literally the last thing in the world I wanted to do, but I couldn’t seem to say no. I immediately felt resentful that I had to drop everything to be there for someone else. Sure, it was someone I cared about, but all I really wanted was five minutes to myself. Then I felt guilty for not jumping at the chance to be a good friend. I do consider myself a great friend, and no one enjoys letting people down.
The truth is that when you’re a helper, a healer, and someone who generally wants to make the world a better place, it’s easy to get caught up doing things you don’t want to do.
Whether we think “we should” or it would make someone else happy, a yes that isn’t genuine really doesn’t benefit anyone. Those of us who struggle with this have a difficult time prioritizing ourselves - and a really difficult time saying no. If your yes’s are true yes’s, great! But if your yes is coming through gritted teeth, try these simple shifts to feel less guilty about saying no.
- Share the wealth
You feel really good when you get to help someone, right? Recognize that when you take up 100% of the responsibility pie, you rob others of the opportunity to help out and grow. I ended up calling my friend back and told her I couldn’t make it, and guess what? She called our other friend, and they had a really nice afternoon together. Their opportunity to bond was actually a byproduct of me standing up for my needs!
- Be realistic about what you can and can’t do
Accept the fact that you can’t fulfill your mission when you are overextended. We’ve all heard the expression that “you can’t serve from an empty vessel”, and it is absolutely true. When presented with an ask, take a moment to respond and really, seriously consider: can I do this without driving myself crazy? If I do this, will I even have the bandwidth to do a good job? If I say no to this, what will I be able to say yes to instead?
- Create a “no bank”
When I was first working on this issue with my coach, we created a “no bank” - basically a few go-to phrases to say no, so that I wouldn’t feel as pressured to say yes. My favorite is, “Thank you so much for thinking of me. I love the opportunity, but I am determined not to take on anything else until I get finished with the projects I have going on right now.” This and a smile is usually enough to shut it down without sending me into guilt overdrive. Jot down a few of your favorite go-to ‘no phrases’ that feel comfortable and authentic to you.
- Accept that you can’t control others’ reactions
Understand that you can do everything right, say yes every day, and will still end up disappointing people. This can be so painful! For most of us, we say yes out of a desire to please others and help them feel happy and supported. As tough as it can be, try to acknowledge that you can’t please everyone, and are not in charge of anyone’s reactions but your own.
Struggling with saying no is the most normal thing in the world, especially for caring women who have been socialized to take care of everyone and everything. So don’t beat yourself up if it takes time to get the hang of it. Learning to stand up for your needs is a practice, but one that you are completely capable of perfecting. Remember: prioritizing you means prioritizing your mission, and both you and your mission are worth it.
Photos by: Valerie Denise Photography