When I was a small child, I would spend a lot of time with my grandfather. He was a stern man of principle, but he had a soft gooey heart for his grandchildren. He was the first person I would have the teacher call when I had a “belly ache” in kindergarten. I knew that he and his tender heart would come pick me up from school, even though there was nothing wrong with me, and take me back to his house to watch cartoons for the rest of the day. Complete with a TV tray lunch of tomato juice and a Slim Jim, because that is the nutrition all strong independent children need, I would get to enjoy the comfort of his presence in contrast to that dreadful kindergarten place. I could always count on him saying yes to me, until that one time when he told me “no”. I didn’t like that. But guess who survived?
I don’t remember why my grandpa told me no. I was five years old and that was a thousand years ago, but I do remember that I was all, “oh no you didn’t” or something like that. I was so used to him giving in to my every wish and saying yes to me. When the word “no” bounced off his lips, I was flabbergasted. How dare he? I have heard the word “no” in a million different ways since the age of five, and each time it makes me feel bad for three seconds or a few days, depending on the severity of the situation, but each time I have gotten over it. Rejection feels bad no matter what age you are. There, I said it.
The word “no” is often associated with negativity, when I hear it I instantly feel rejected, and when I say it, I feel guilty. I want to be able to help everyone, I want people to tell me “yes” after I’ve spent hours working up the courage to ask a question, but we can’t be “yes” people all the time. We can’t expect to hear “yes” all the time, and we can’t avoid asking for what we need because we are afraid to hear “no”. That is nonsense, but it’s how I spent the first half of my life. Whoops.
This idea that saying yes to everything is adventurous and risky is outlandish to me. Sure, to a certain extent we all crave adventure and wish to be a little carefree from time to time, but what about when we say yes so much because we are afraid to say no? Because we are afraid to be rejected? Because we want to make other people happy so much that we forget to take care of ourselves? Because we are afraid we might miss out? It’s nice to hear yes and nice to say yes, but not when it’s costing us our own happiness. The power to say “no” is inside each of us. We set and control our boundaries, all it takes is a little courage.
Remember in high school when you came to class prepared and sat next to someone who didn’t finish their homework, and they had the audacity to ask, “hey, did you do your homework?” And you would cringe because yes, you did, and you knew they wanted to copy it? (Bitter memories resurfacing for both the homework doers and non-doers here.) You let this person copy your homework three or four times and it results in them stopping their homework efforts all together because they know they can copy yours, right? And you even feel good about it for a bit because you are being a helper, but at the same time you are building an anger bubble on the inside because when have they ever helped you? You spent three hours crying over that homework, trying to find the answers to those questions, and they get to squeeze by WITHOUT ANY TEARS OR EFFORT? WHAT THE HELL? I wonder what would have happened if I had set boundaries. If I had said, “no, you can’t copy my homework, John, do it your damn self.” I bet that would have felt pretty powerful. I bet I would have been a little less angry. The real outcome to this story involved me not doing my homework as well, so I would not have answers to give. Take that, John. (I will live as I will die, passively petty.)
Saying yes all the time is frustrating. Some people will extort you to benefit from all that you give, even if it means that you suffer. Some people will simply think you are a nice person who just loves giving, either way, it’s your job to set boundaries. Maybe you don’t say “no” because it’s scary. Maybe the repercussions, or the possibility that people won’t like you, have you saying “yes” over and over again until your insides break and you have many displaced feelings and then you cry over things like forgetting to turn on your crock pot. (Totally not me.) Maybe you are afraid you will lose a friend or family member, or it will cause a fight and you would rather keep the peace. Maybe you are afraid that saying “no” may label you selfish, because the line between selfish and taking care of yourself is unclear. You wouldn’t want to be perceived as anything negative, now, would you? Whatever your reason for always saying “yes”, if it’s affecting your general well-being, it’s time to check yourself. You are a unique individual with so much to give, but you cannot give what you have if it has already been taken by someone who does not deserve it. It’s time to take a stand, because there’s power in the word no, and you too can own that power.
When you start saying “no” people might be flabbergasted like 5-year-old Danielle, because they are not used to you rejecting them. John may have called me the B word or told his friends that I was stuck-up. Whatever. In real adult life there is respect at the line between yes and no. When you don’t say yes all the time people will stop coming to you with every little thing, and they will come to you with the things that are most important. It will test the quality of your closest relationships, but those who love and care about you will respect your time and energy and respect that you are one person with limited resources. Your relationships will be stronger because you will be giving time to those people who deserve it and who respect you. You will be able to give your time without reluctance, because you have savored your time for those moments that need you, or those moments you fully want to be a part of, or those moments that bring you joy. There is no shame in telling the John’s of the world to do it their damn self. Or to tell people to ask someone else, but not you, not today, because you are focusing on your dreams, your goals, and for once yourself.
If it seems difficult to start saying “no” right away, start by dipping your toe in the water. Start by saying, “I’ll let you know” or, “let me get back to you.” Of course, we should be kind to the people who deserve our kindness. You will probably never hear me actually telling someone to “do it their damn self.” Even though, I might want to. We are not rejecting them, we are rejecting the situation, our time, our money, our energy. Whatever it may be, we can say no in a way that is respectful, and if your friends try to bully or pressure you into saying yes, still say no. There is power in taking care of yourself, in resisting the urge to say yes, in making a clear choice to take back control of your own life. Start by defining your limits, writing down your values and goals, and start saying “no” to anything that gets in the way of you taking care of yourself and living your ultimate life.