The Power of “No.”

Some dear friends were recently complimenting me on my ability to say “no.”I was surprised yet pleased, because saying “no” doesn’t come naturally to me.  I’ve had to work at it like I’ve had to work on my posture or my penmanship, since saying “yes” is my reflex.My sister and I have long shared a joke about the a nodding “yes” that almost indiscernibly segues into the gentle “no” — complete with the casual shaking of the head. When we observed people doing the “yyyeahhhhhhhnnnnnoooooo,” it cracked us up because it was so relatable.  Neither of us really knew how to say “no.”For years, I would automatically answer “yes” to invitations  — Yo Alix, do you want to go ice fishing at 4 a.m.? (beat) Um, yeah — because I didn’t have the skills or confidence to kindly decline.  God forbid I should offend someone.  I mean, what if they don’t like me? Everyone has to like me, right? Right?

I would accept jobs, social obligations, or projects that I really wasn’t feeling for one reason or another but felt powerless to refuse.  I really love people.  I don’t want to let them down.  It seemed much easier to let me down than let others down.

A few years ago I realized that I had to make a change.  I have focuses (foci?) in my life — my family, my work, my writing — and I owed it to them and me to say “no” to things that don’t serve those purposes (purposi?).  It already takes me too long to accomplish the few goals I have. Piling on more “to-dos” takes me further from my finish line.

Those first few “no’s” were verbose and rawly awkward. I’m sorry, I would really, really love to — it sounds amazing — I’m sooooooo flattered that you asked me — but, I don’t think I can right now, though I wish I could, but um…. thanks. Sorry!!!!!!!!! (beat) Oh crap… now they hate me.

I also used to think that I had to have a concrete calender reason in order to say “no”: the dentist, a drunk uncle, dropsy. Now I know I don’t need anything other than what I’m saying “no” to isn’t in alignment either with who I am or what I am doing with my life in that particular moment.  I still remind myself it’s okay to put myself first where appropriate.  The world does not fall apart without me on its committee.

The beautiful aspect about this whole process is that people are exceedingly gracious when receiving a gracious “no.”  When grace meets grace everything is in its proper place.


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