“No” is Not a Dirty Word

Oh God honey no

Perhaps my biggest struggle – both personally and professionally – has been mastering the art of a well-placed “no.” As a chronic people-pleaser, saying that word means saddling myself with guilt. While I intend a “no” to others to be a “yes” to myself (e.g., I’m not taking on X for you, because I need to focus on Y for me), I inevitably cannot enjoy the freedom that should come with it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the origin of this. What has made me fear saying no? What has contributed to my inability to enjoy a yes to myself (in the form of a no to others)? What factors have created an inextricable link between “no” and guilt?

As a society, Americans generally seem to have an aversion to no (although, there are always exceptions).

  • Some parents don’t like to tell their children “no” – see #2 on this list (disclaimer: I am not a biological parent. But I’ve had extensive conversations with friends that are parents.)
  • We are generally discouraged from saying “no” in our careers – I have been coached many times to say “I could do that if…” instead of “No, I am already at a capacity.” This one is particularly damaging because it fosters a high-stress, low-empowerment environment.
  • We don’t feel as if we can just say “no” to social gatherings, even if we desperately need a quiet night of sweatpants, malbec, and Bravo! – we fear that being upfront about this will hurt our friends’ feelings and make it seem as if – God forbid – we prioritize ourselves over them.

Why is “no” such a cultural no-no?

It doesn’t mean that you aren’t a team player. It doesn’t mean that you are mean or a bad parent. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t able or don’t care.

No means that you possess self-awareness, which many people lack. No means that you understand your limits. No means that you are prioritizing, and choosing what to invest your time and focus in.

It doesn’t mean that you aren’t a team player. It doesn’t mean that you are mean or a bad parent. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t able or don’t care.

My husband gifted me “The Four-Hour Work Week” (Tim Ferriss) for Christmas and I recently finished it (would highly recommend). I had many takeaways from the book, but one in particular continues to resonate:

Most things make no difference. Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing, and is far more unpleasant… It is not only possible to accomplish more by doing less, it is mandatory.

PREACH.

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