One of the most used words in the English language is ‘No’. In fact, it’s so popular that it holds a place as one of the top 100 most used words. It’s easy to spell, easy to pronounce and easy to understand.
For a two-letter word, ‘No’ certainly holds a lot of power. I don’t know any other two-letter word that can be a complete sentence, a declaration and an exercise in standing up for myself. So why is it so hard for me to say it?
I’m known to go out of my way for my friends and family, probably sometimes to a fault. When someone asks me for a favor I can’t help but say ‘Yes’. I feel great being trusted and needed. If someone asks for my help, I want to be there.
I didn’t mind that much because I was helping someone. I guess it was instilled in me at an early age to always be helpful whenever possible. But as I got older, I wondered, where do I draw the line?
Over the years it became increasingly difficult for me to carve out a life and a career for myself when I had so many requests for favors coming in. And most of the time these requests were from fair-weather friends.
Before I knew it, my weekend plans were filled with helping people move, running errands for elderly neighbors or seeing a movie with someone just because they didn’t want to see it alone. Then these requests turned into more time-consuming activities, like driving an hour and a half to my mother’s friend’s house to wallpaper a bedroom. And I hate to wallpaper.
It was hard to tell the difference between a sincere need for help and what was simply an easy solution for them to get free labor. If they threw in a little guilt and a story of hardship, they had me hook, line and sinker.
And the worst part? I was missing out on things I really wanted to do. Those things that recharged my batteries were swept aside each time I said ‘Yes’ to helping out one of those fair-weather friends. “Of course I’ll help you if it makes your life easier. I can just TiVo the Emmys and iron my work clothes after midnight when I get home. No problem.”
After feeling burnt out from being everyone’s go-to helper, I realized I had a problem setting my own priorities, making boundaries and taking time for myself.
After years of being the ‘Yes’ person, I was disgruntled. I didn’t want to spend my whole Saturday driving an hour away to visit someone out of obligation. Nor did I want to help a cousin clean her house when she could easily do it herself or simply hire a cleaning service.
But what was it that really kept me doing all those things that I didn’t want to do? The answer is simple: guilt. When someone asked for a favor I had this unrelenting sense of guilt if I even thought of turning them down.
After all, what was I going to do this Saturday that was more important? Just watch a movie I’ve been looking forward to seeing, try out that new recipe or polish my toes. You know what I finally realized? Guilt is a waste of energy.
It’s okay to say ‘No’ just because I want to stay home and take a bubble bath. I’m not the only person who can help out in a situation. And I shouldn’t be expected to just drop my plans every time. Of course I’m not talking about an emergency. When my friend cut her finger in a brave attempt at deboning a fish, I was there in a heartbeat to drive her to the ER. If you’re in real trouble, I’m your gal.
I admit I felt guilty when I first started saying ‘No’. This exercise in freedom was tough. But I discovered when I said ‘No,’ the world didn’t come to an end.
What did happen was that I started to enjoy my weekends a lot more. I took time to relax and just be. I allowed myself time to replenish before Monday rolled around. And those people, most of whom were not my really good friends, just went to the next sucker seeking their help. Half the time I wondered why they couldn’t just do the work themselves and spare everyone time and energy.
I’m so glad I learned this lesson. It took a while, but I got there. ‘No’ is a complete sentence. The beauty of this simple phrase is it requires no explanation. And if I decide to give one, I can just say I have plans, even if those plans are polishing my toes.
So, do you say ‘No’?