The best gift I’ve ever given myself is the right to refuse. Egregiously.
Sometime in my twenties, after becoming angry at myself for being a people-pleaser and finding myself spending time getting roped into doing things that I really didn’t want to do, I made the decision that if I were asked to do something, I would do it only if I thought I wouldn’t complain about it. If I believed I would be mad at myself later, I would say no. Just no. No explanation needed. No would be good enough.
It was absolutely the most liberating decision I’ve ever made, and I’ve never looked back.
This decision was born of frustration. If you’re a person who always says yes, you become the go-to person. I was tired of being the go-to person, and I didn’t have the time or resources to be the go-to person. People will drain you dry if you allow it. So I decided to shake things up one day and say no. It was great! By not doing whatever it was that someone else wanted of me, I had free time to spend doing exactly what I wanted to do! It was so addictive that the word ‘no’ became prominent in my daily vocabulary. It was my private joke, and as addictive as any drug.
I was saying no to others, but I was saying yes to myself.
The pitfall is that the habit of saying no frequently can lead to isolation and refusal to try new things. When I look back, some of my best stories are from times where I probably should have said no, and would have said no by my current standards. I have enough tales of my stupidity (that’s what teenage years are for), so I was willing to take that chance.
I was afraid that people would sense my change in willingness to bend over backwards and get mad at me for my newly adopted philosophy. But, as my mother always said: “if they’re not paying any bills in your house, they have no right to get mad at you for your choices.” I stuck to my decisions, and a few surprising changes ensued.
First, once people got wind of my new attitude toward nay-saying, there were certain requests that I no longer received. They already knew the answer. ”Can I borrow money?” No. ”Can I drive your car?” No. ”Can you co-sign a loan for me because I have bad credit?” Umm . . . HELL no! ”Can you babysit?” Have you met me? No. ”Can you help me move?” Love ya, but no. (As an aside, I’m SO happy that people have stopped asking me to help them to move. I’m not the best candidate. I’m strong but I care more about preserving my manicure. Oh, and for the record? NOBODY wants to help you move. They might agree to help, but they’re bitching about it with every over-packed box they lift. At this stage of my life, beer and pizza aren’t enticing enough to cajole me into spending 6 hours doing manual labor. Besides, I hate beer. You’re an adult. Throw some money at that problem. Hire professional movers and preserve your friendships and your furniture. But I digress . . . ).
Granted, most of my friends have never made any of those requests, but you get the point.
I noticed that a few of the needier people in my life disappeared altogether, which was ultimately fine. Once I developed the reputation as a person who would say no, many of the odd requests stopped.
Next I noticed that when I said yes I was more enthusiastic because whatever I had agreed to was a choice that I actively made. I was sincerely excited, which improved the quality of my experiences. When I agree to be there for someone, they know that I really want to be there.
Now let me be clear . . . I don’t say no to everything. Most of my friends are delightful and not imposing. After serious consideration I do occasionally say yes to things that I perceive to be uncomfortable or things that I’m willing to try. I continue to love to do favors for my friends, although I avoid those that will put me in a position of compromise and ones that could ultimately ruin the friendship.
Being in a relationship means a great deal of give and take, and therefore saying yes to a lot of things that I’m not always happy about and wouldn’t normally agree to, but that’s an entirely different topic.
I’m sharing this because there are a lot of people out there who are similar to the pre-no-me, and it’s amazing how a two-letter word can significantly reduce your use of four-letter words (although a well-placed f-bomb can also be quite liberating).
If you try it, please comment and let me know how it’s working for you.