Recently I wrote a post about self-care where I referenced Shonda Rhimes’s book Year of Yes after I took a cycling class where there’s currently an entire Year of Yes series going on. It wasn’t my first time writing about the year of yes, and it also isn’t my first time writing about the power of no. A few years ago I wrote a post about my very own Year of No (you can read it here).
Now I am offering full disclosure here my friends-It took me a while to create an environment within myself and around me where I was comfortable saying no. If you read my post you know I was almost forced into it when my life started to come apart at the seams so badly that I became physically ill. At this point in my life, I do feel that I have a better handle on it and I don’t necessarily have to live between the extremes. But I still lean more to my yes’s professionally right now as a way to challenge myself and step outside of my comfort zone. But my yes’s are more intentional and don’t necessarily come from my need to please. That need however is pretty deep-rooted and it’s a constant work in progress.
Let’s go back a bit. The other day I asked my mother if I’d ever mentioned what I wanted to be as a small child. I remember wanting to be a singer in the early ’80s as I sat transfixed by the pop stars lighting up the television screen on the newly released MTV station-I had no real interest in singing and couldn’t carry a tune by the way. So I wanted to know if there was something that I was intrinsically drawn to even before that. “Did I have a desire to be something even earlier?” I asked. With all of this talk about purpose floating around, I often wonder if I am truly fulfilling mine. I thought she might say veterinarian as I had a big heart for animals and still do, but I hoped she’d say writer as I’ve been a lover of books my entire life. I don’t remember” she said sounding a little deflated, “but I know you were always the teacher’s pet. You were always the one chosen to pass out papers and help around the classroom. Maybe you wanted to be a teacher?” she said suddenly with a hopeful tone. My heart sank. Something inside me knew as soon as she said it, that it wasn’t true-the teacher part I mean, but she was right about one thing, I did have an overwhelming need to please that I still struggle with to this day.
It’s what led me to have a closet full of bridesmaid dresses that rivaled that of Katherine Heigl’s character Jane in 27 Dresses. It drove me to take pride in answering calls at 2 AM if a friend was in need- and by in need that typically meant something to do with sobbing over a boyfriend who wasn’t worth either one of us losing any sleep over (especially with me being a single mom of two at the time). And it’s why for the first few years of my new career my daughter handled all contract negotiations. At my core, I am an easy yes. But I have learned a few things that allowed me to put some space between my need to please others and my need to take care of the little girl inside who thought that she had to be valuable to others to have value herself.
Now I will admit that in today’s day of digital communication I have gotten much better at slowing down my automatic and often regrettable yes. Text messages and emails allow me a few minutes to pause and assess. But I will be honest as much as I love connecting with people when someone says (and they often do) “let’s hop on a call” my biggest fear is that I will revert to my automatic yes. So I do a little self-talk before our meeting. There are a few things I remind myself and still practice (notice I didn’t say I’ve perfected) no matter how the ask comes in that helps me unleash the power of no. If you are anything like me and saying no is a bit of a struggle sometimes, here are three things you can do too.
Ask yourself if your answer is fear-based– this could also be phrased as know your why. What’s behind your yes or no? Is your answer based on fear? Some fears are legitimate and certainly justified but others are barriers to our success. When I feel myself serving up an automatic yes but really wanting to say no I ask myself my why. Tuning into the true reason for your reply will allow you to step up and embrace the opportunity or double down and honor your no.
Okay, at this point you’ve decided to double down but how? First, remind yourself that yes the memes are right- No is a complete sentence. But for me, I like to recognize that you can be graceful and truthful in your no too.
A reply to a professional request might sound something like this-Thank you so much for inviting me, (considering me or selecting me) however I am unable to accept at this time.
A personal example might be-it’s so good to hear from you! Congrats on (insert achievement or milestone). I will not be able to attend but let’s circle back after (insert invited event) to find a time to get together that works for both of us. I’d still like to celebrate with you.
That’s it. That’s a graceful, thoughtful no. I practice that often so that it’s easier to grab for when then knee jerk yes- that’s really a no rears its head. Think of it as a way to protect your time and your peace.
Finally, if you’re anything like me sometimes feelings of guilt rise up. Remind yourself that every no allows you to say yes to something else that truly matters. Protecting your peace and honoring your time is not about being selfish. It actually allows you to be more intentional and perhaps more selfless by giving you the opportunity to focus on things that bring you joy and allow you to actually show up joyfully for yourself and others. Every single no makes room for more heck yes’.
So those are my three tips for saying No. I’d love to hear your tips for unleashing your No’s too.
Until next post!
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