Saying no. Do we really need another lesson on it? Yes, we do. Why? Because no matter how many times someone stands up and tells us we need to pace ourselves, say no more often, reserves our yes’s, we do it really well for about an hour and a half and then we are back to over-committing our lives.
I said no to something else last night. I felt guilty. It was a good thing I was being asked to do. It was service at a homeless shelter, actually. And even admitting that, I feel a bit ashamed. But I had set aside tonight for writing and for cooking. So I said “No, thank you for the invitation, but I can’t.” And no one is mad at me and the homeless shelter is still running and the world didn’t end. And I still have friends and a life and a purpose.
For a long time—most of my life—I found my purpose in pleasing others and doing what they asked of me.
When they were happy with me, I was happy with me. But these last few months I have made an effort to say no more often and at odd times when most people would say yes. For example, there have been parties and coffee dates and completely fun and normal activities, and I’ve said no thanks. And maybe I still have a gnawing unease about the possibility of losing friends and things that I think make me who I am, but do you wonder how I feel over all? I feel like I can breathe easier.
In a very good (and very long) article called “The Power of No,” Dr. Judith Sills explains that by saying the word “no” we are saying, “‘This is who I am; this is what I value; this is what I will and will not do; this is how I will choose to act.’
We love others, give to others, cooperate with others, and please others, but we are, always and at the core, distinct and separate selves. We need the answer No to carve and support that space.”
Dr. Sills goes on to talk about the way a two-year-old says no so naturally. “That primordial, powerful No is the original assertion of the self against the other,” she says. “For the rest of our days we are challenged to find the proper, effective way to draw that line.”
Instead of worrying about the rest of your days, think about the next 30.
You are going to be asked to do a lot of things. ‘Tis the season for parties and errands galore.
Remember, each time we say yes to something that makes our stomachs a bit sick with dread, we are losing ourselves, muddling the truth of who we are. But each time we say no to those things, we are accepting the truth about who we are at our core.
It doesn’t have to be 20 consecutive “no’s”, but I do challenge you say no to one out of three requests that come your way over the next month. I bet you will be able to breathe easier because of it. I bet you will experience Christmas more fully. And I bet you will discover another little piece of who you are.