I’m a people pleaser. Always have been, probably always will be. I want to make people around me happy, and that means that saying no is not my strong suit. If people ask me to do something or go somewhere or help them with something, I usually say yes. That’s fine most of the time, but sometimes I’d prefer to say no. And that’s harder than it sounds.
My husband is very good at saying no, and very good at putting his family first above all else. If something is going to interfere with his time with us, he says no, and it doesn’t bother him at all. But for me, I find myself saying yes more often than I’d like, in order to avoid the guilt that sometimes goes along with saying no.
I’ve always been able to say no to things like girl scout cookies and the guy who comes to the door selling magazines to pay for his spring break trip to Mazatlan. But it’s much harder when it’s someone I know.
I’ve been getting some practice with saying no lately, and although it’s still not easy, it feels much better afterwards, knowing that I’ve stayed true to myself and the people who matter most to me.
One of our neighbors brought over some cookies at Christmas with a note saying that she was starting a monthly ladies card game night at her house, and was inviting all the ladies in the neighborhood. Her husband passed away last year, and I can definitely understand where she’s coming from. But I’m in a very different situation. My husband and I both work (from home, but we’re still working), and we have two little boys. We’re also in the middle of finishing our basement and the yard is an ongoing project. When I have free time, I want to spend it with my husband and our boys, or with our extended family and a few close friends. I don’t want to make new friends right now. That might sound selfish or odd, but I just don’t have space in my life to add anyone else right now. Give me a few years, and things will likely be different. The boys will be in school, our basement will be finished – by then, I might have room for new friendships. But for now, nurturing the relationships I already have is my priority.
Anyway, I opted to not attend the first get-together, and figured that was the end of it. Then a couple weeks ago, the lady who was organizing the whole thing stopped by our house to ask me again if I wanted to join. I politely told her that we were just too busy with the boys and the basement, and thanked her for inviting me.
A few days later, another lady stopped by with her pre-teen daughter and said that the first lady had mentioned that we’re too busy with the boys and she was offering her daughter as a babysitter so that I would be able to attend the card nights. Again, I politely said thanks, but no thanks.
Then yesterday, another lady from down the street contacted me to see if I was aware of the ladies night plans and would I like to come along? My husband said I must be the coolest lady on the block, since everyone is trying to talk me into joining the card game. He’s sweet.
Anyway, I told the third lady that I’m just not taking on any more commitments right now, and thanked her for contacting me.
In all three cases, I used strategies that my husband and I learned a long time ago when we read The Power of a Positive No – definitely a good book if you have a hard time saying no. Add it to your library list!
And in all three cases, even though it was a bit uncomfortable for me to say no at the time, I felt good about myself afterwards. If I had said yes in order to avoid the uncomfortable feeling, I would have been bummed afterwards, thinking “what did I get myself into?!” I respected myself and my own desires and my commitment to my family and friends. I avoided spreading myself too thin. Even though the card game night would only be once a month, it’s easy for once a month things to spawn other commitments too – especially when lots of people are involved. One of the ladies sells candles at house parties, which means that there would likely have been more uncomfortable moments of feeling obligated to do or buy something in the future if I had become part of that group. Which would have been a bummer, especially since it’s not really a group that I want to be part of in the first place.
Anyway, I’m feeling good about saying no. For some of you, this might be second nature. But I know that there are plenty of you out there who have the same struggles I do when it comes to saying no. It’s definitely a skill worth building though. Remind yourself to be true to what really matters rather than what’s right in front of you at the moment. Make a list of what’s important to you and tape it to your bathroom mirror as a daily reminder. And then focus on those things. Don’t sacrifice them in order to please other people or avoid temporary discomfort.
Leo Babauta wrote a post recently about making room for a new year, and the second item on his list involves clearing his schedule as much as possible, which he noted often means saying no to people. His list is great, and I would add to it a reminder that January 1 is a very arbitrary day to make changes in your life. You can make changes any day – any hour of any day, really. And an uncluttered schedule is a beautiful thing.
Before I go, I want to share this DIY post with you. Three pieces of homemade furniture from one piece of plywood. Pretty awesome.