If my twenty-month-old were my life coach, her motto would be simple: Say “No”
There are lots of ways of repeating this mantra, according to my coach. Sometimes it’s the quiet ‘no’ of a toddler who’s only half-listening to the question in the first place. Sometimes it’s a terrifying tantrum of a ‘no’ that leaves pictures trembling on the wall and parents shooting confused looks at each other as they try to figure out what set her off in the first place. And sometimes it’s the exhausted, whiny refusal of a person who just needs the relief of a soft pillow and some ocean noises on her sound machine. To her, there’s no wrong way to say the words.
Nearly every question I have for my daughter right now is answered with a swift no and occasionally accompanied with a sassy waggle of her finger and shake of her head. It’s the most adorably frustrating thing I’ve experienced in my short tenure as a mother, but it’s also some of the most poignant advice I’ve received.
Of course, my daughter is far from the first person to argue with me. But her stubborn toddler resolve is something that I’ve long forgotten how to portray. As an anxiety-ridden people-pleaser, I spend a big chunk of my life worrying. Many of you, I’m sure, can relate. I worry about work, about my family, about dinner, about that text I sent earlier and the six others I haven’t responded to; about that post I made in that Facebook group that I only reread five times before hitting submit, and oh, god, what if someone misinterprets it and why did I post it at all and…
Stop. Take a breath. Calm down.
For many of us, this list of worries and anxieties never ends. There are a million things to do and to worry about and then a million more that we heap on top of ourselves because we refuse to do what comes so naturally for my daughter, Little Miss Sassy Pants.
Believe me, I am the poster child. When I was a teacher, I took on responsibility after responsibility that left me with a very full plate, no time to preserve my sanity, and crippling anxiety over all of the things that needed to be done. And still, I couldn’t seem to force myself to say no. I was too afraid of upsetting someone or hurting someone’s feelings or of letting someone down. And the weight of that began to crush me.
In an ideal world, I would present you with a list of surefire ways of saying no without sounding like a jerk and reclaiming your life for yourself. But the problem is…I don’t have one. Because even now, five years later, I’m still that same person who overcommits and can’t admit it to anyone, especially not herself. I’m still the sort of person that accepts responsibility – either by default or with the best of intentions – and then can’t find the eject button when it gets to be too much. It isn’t until someone else sees me drowning and throws a life preserver my way that I can see an escape. But even then, all I’m left with is the guilt over having to be rescued in the first place.
The best thing for me to do is to avoid the position altogether. And the only way I can do so is by learning to just tell someone no.
If you’re like me, you need to hear something really important. Are you listening?
It is okay to prioritize yourself.
You are worth the time you take for yourself.
You don’t owe anyone your sanity. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.
It’s a lesson I still haven’t learned. But I’m hopeful. One day, I’ll figure it out. One day, someone will ask me something and I’ll be able to tell them no without the guilt. I won’t lie awake at night worrying about the impression they have of me or my work ethic or my character. I’ll know that I said no because I love myself enough to give myself a fighting chance.
And just wait, Little Miss Sassy Pants, cause Momma’s gonna be practicing saying no right back to you.