I've spent the better part of 2017 learning how to say no, and this week, I was reminded yet again of how damn hard it is.
A friend of mine had asked me to apply for a really amazing board position within my community. I could think of lots of reasons to say yes: a worthy cause, historical involvement on my part, working with peers I respect and admire, more exposure for the arts, the opportunity to make a difference, the compliment of being considered, the doors it could open up.
Sounds good, right?
But I declined.
And it hurt.
And they understood, but were disappointed.
(Side note: As my friend Emily would say, "WE NEED TO STOP RESPONDING TO THINGS WITH "AW" OR "BUMMER" OR "I'M SO DISAPPOINTED." Preach. Luckily, this person didn't guilt trip me but the shame level in most conversations like this is way too high.)
These situations are perfect storms of emotion for me. This is when I often panic, rear my head and heart back, and change positions . . . all to avoid the discomfort of . . . not being liked? I don't know. This is when I feel like a bad person for saying no. This is when I believe I'm missing out. This is when I start to wonder about scarcity - because if I don't take advantage of every moment or opportunity, there can't possibly be enough to go around. I'll be forgotten, left behind, ignored, not needed. I particularly worry when the next *thing* isn't entirely visible: like, if I'm saying no now, and nothing is around the corner, then what?
As you can see, it's never about the *thing* itself. It's always about the big questions: Am I enough? Am I loved? Am I seen? Am I heard?
My dear friend and life coach Jen has a podcast called First + Foremost, and I had the recent honor of chatting with her the other month about creativity and self-care, but also how to walk away from what's good to explore what's great. (Here's the full episode, if you'd like to listen!) During our talk, I told her listeners how I had stepped down from writing regularly at The Everygirl, and how challenging that decision was to make. At nearly every turn, I almost talked myself into staying.
But the truth is, I didn't want to do it anymore. It was as simple and as complicated as that.
For example: they had given me a chance with writing after I had my son, and I felt immensely grateful for that . . . but I was ready to try some new writing projects. I loved their team of editors, and the freedom they offered me topically . . . but I didn't feel as committed as I had at the beginning. I met my deadlines . . . . but with a sort of resigned sense of obligation.
With every reason - and trust me, they were good reasons! - my heart kind of sank as I thought, "But . . . I don't want to do this anymore."
So I listened, and I stepped down as a regular contributor. I felt a sense of relief right away, followed by the normal oh shit sensation that accompanies anything outside of my comfort zone ('cuz people pleasing is DEF in that zone). And you guys, I still feel the pangs of that decision, even though it was the right one. Still!
This is how it goes, though. Every important decision I've ever made involved that kind of tension.
Distancing myself from friends who don't really show up for me? Yes, *wrinkles nose.* Taking an extended break from teaching yoga? Yup, I have days where I miss it, terribly. Walking away from a toxic relationship? Ow, ow, ow, because I loved that person at the same time. Drinking less booze and eating my vegetables? Blah, I'd rather have wine and pizza every day. Putting my phone down at night to give my son more attention? Haaaaaard. (Does a good mom admit this? Unsure.) Staying home on a Friday night to go to bed early? Boring but necessary some weeks. Having tricky yet vulnerable conversations with my husband? Deep breath, I don't always wanna.
Maybe you've felt the same way. Tough choices come in minor or major forms, and each one presents you with an opportunity to pause, and ask yourself: "Is this what I want?"
No, but really - is this what I want? If it is, I find a way to say yes. I just do. I figure it out, and I bet you do, too.
Two articles come to mind. One is the infamous "hell yeah or no" concept by Derek Sivers:
The other is a piece on peer pressure by Amelia Diamond, who says,
I'm keeping these approaches in mind all the time these days. I can't prioritize what I care about if I'm constantly saying yes to other people's priorities for me. And neither can you.
Last thing: when your people honor their priorities, lift them up. Say, "Good for you." Champion their ability to do what's right for them, for their family and their mental health or their financial security or WHATEVER, even if you disagree. Obviously, there's a difference between being totally self-centered and making choices with integrity, but hopefully you can discern between the two. Because the more you witness people who walk away from what's good to explore what's great, the sooner you can learn how to do it for yourself.
See yourself. Hear yourself. Love yourself, and trust you are enough. Wait for when you want to walk through the door that opens, even if you're scared or tired or unsure. And say no until then so you can make space for your yes.