Learning to Say No


Often, when I am knee deep in something in which I regret being immersed, I laugh and ask myself why I can’t say “no.” I am just SO bad at it sometimes.

Does anybody else cringe at the number of “product parties”–Avon, 31, Tastefully Simple, Jamberry Nails, Mary Kay, Essential Oils, whatever– you have attended over the years, mostly just to avoid hurting someone’s feelings by not uttering that challenging word “no” and choosing not to attend? And how many items did you buy that you truly needed, versus those you bought purely out of a feeling of obligation? More importantly, how much valuable time did you invest in something you did not truly have the time, money or energy to invest in, period?

Moms especially know how many things are thrown our way, and inherently we try to do everything and be everything and manage everything…with kids, spouses/partners, friends, work, church, sports, activities, etc. But the truth is, we can’t do it all. Saying “no,” although difficult, can perhaps prove to be the most valuable, respectful word around at times.

I know I am not alone, and many others struggle or despise saying “no,” even if they won’t admit it. A lot of people use masked or watered down versions of the word, or in their minds better alternatives to just saying “no.” Think about how many flaky situations you have encountered where you got a “maybe” or you didn’t really get a straight answer or you didn’t even receive a response at all. It happens all the time! I get it; avoiding this haunting word seemingly prevents drama, conflict, hurt feelings, or (gasp) awkwardness! We want to avoid conflict; we want to be liked, to be accepted, to help others. And sometimes, such as with our children, we simply want to avoid certain battles…and all-out fits at the grocery store with loud shrieking and flailing body parts! Yet, just as we try to teach our children, the easy route is not always the best route.

I remember sitting in a hotel conference room two years ago on a random Wednesday night, 40 minutes away from home, thinking, “What in THE heck am I doing here?” I did not want to go there in the first place; I only did it to be nice. The entire drive there I thought about how I would rather be at home playing with my son; I experienced a little bit of anxiety because I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was invited by a former student (she is so stinking sweet, so I harbor no hard feelings, and she was probably also misled!) to this “great opportunity” to make some extra cash, and it was right up my alley, she said, because of my work ethic and personality. Plus, my stay-at-home mom status would give me the time I needed to excel at this job. Yet, an hour into the presentation, it hit me, and my stomach turned: I realized I was sitting at one of those pyramid scheme thing-a-majiggys. They said I would find out everything I needed to know that night. Well, long story short, that was not true in any capacity. I basically watched a handful of people in suits tell the crowd of suckers just like me that they make a lot of money and that we should also want to make a lot of money like them. Um, duh? I like money, too, and always want more of it. Yes, please.

Sure, they had a PowerPoint and charts and graphs, but they never revealed exactly what we would be doing. Oh, but we needed to give them $500 to start our exciting new career and build the business to make all of that money they were raving about…crazy, right? At the end of the night, I was still not sure if I was going to be asked to sell Kirby vacuum cleaners or cleaning products or environmentally-safe tampons or whatever. Of special note, I was not game for selling any of those. I love my family and friends too much to hit them up all the time to buy some overpriced products. And, I knew there was zero desire in me to spend hundreds of dollars for just the chance to *try* to make a little money, because if you look at those charts, only one percent or less of the people in whatever business they were in actually make an income. Anyway, they then gave me a CD to listen to on the drive home; it also did not explain what in the world we would be doing to earn this BIG money they boasted about eagerly. It was just some alleged wealthy man talking for a half hour in his deep bedroom voice about how there are so many opportunities out there to make money and how badly we should want it. Sigh. To me, it was a total waste of three hours that I can never reclaim. Lesson learned…

I was in that excruciating situation, wasting my time and theirs, simply because I could not say “no.” Oh my gosh, it’s just one teeny tiny little word. One itsy bitsy syllable. It should just roll off of my tongue, right? In some fashion, fast or slow…even slow mo. Nooooooooooooo.

But it doesn’t. And then I end up in some situation or event or activity I do not want to be a part of, but it’s too late, because I’m already stuck and regretting not growing a pair and just saying NO. I know it doesn’t have to be said in a rude or mean way, and you can even slap a kind “thank you” in there; but “no” certainly needs to be said at times for our own well-being and happiness. And you shouldn’t have to follow up your decline with a litany of excuses: Respect that a “No, thank you” should suffice and that you are acting with integrity—truth to yourself and others–while saying it.

Some people are so darn good at being confidently assertive; I truly respect that quality. But for many of us, it’s not so easy to develop this trait or skill. As a chronic, lifelong people pleaser, not applying “no” more often certainly comes at my own expense. A few years back I received a text around 11 p.m. on a Sunday night from a friend asking if I could watch his 1-year-old daughter along with my son the next day because he couldn’t find anyone else. I was told it would only be a for a few hours; yet, more than seven hours later, he arrived to pick up his daughter. I was secretly irritated he was gone for so much longer than promised. I was exhausted from working the night before and then now having spent all day taking care of two little ones. Yet, I was relieved he finally arrived and that I had helped him. Although I was simply being a good friend and didn’t watch his daughter to receive anything, I was shocked he was so late and not mindful of my time, and somewhat surprised when he hesitantly said, “Oh, well, I don’t have any cash on me. Do you want to watch her a little longer while I go to the ATM machine?” EEK! Um, no, please take her away right now. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is wonderful to help out friends and we should certainly be intrinsically-motivated to help others, especially loved ones. Yet, it does not always need to come at our own expense. At what point do we learn our lessons and say “Never again?” At what point do we say, “Ok, I get it” and make sure we are also taking care of ourselves?

I visibly look ill when thinking about a trip to Vegas in which I agreed to go on one of those time share tours in exchange for a free dinner and show. SO not worth it. I should have just said, “No, thank you” to the pesky pusher in our hotel lobby. We were driven out to the desert and then cornered about buying property. There goes five hours of my life (and a dent in our mini vacation) I will never get back…and a tremendously awkward situation with a relentless, tenacious time share seller! At least we were able to escape without purchasing property (or being buried in the desert), but that experience was brutal! And unnecessary.

So I often ask myself, well, how do I learn how to say “no?” How do I do a better job of being more assertive and more true to myself in terms of what tasks or endeavors I should take on, and which I need to politely decline? How do I make this one daunting word less major and dreadful? Because I do believe everyone deserves to be free of doing things just to make others happy, and that we all need to stop being pushovers, and stop saying yes, even though we possess no desire AT ALL, to do certain things. Setting healthy boundaries and being more confident in decisions and about saying “no” just makes sense. Obviously this can’t always apply, such as in our jobs, but that’s life.

My experiences as a mom have helped me do a better job at recognizing the importance of prioritizing and setting boundaries, but I still have a lot of work to do. I know my family and I simply cannot do All. The. Things, even if we wanted to; we just can’t due to time or energy or money! It is ok, and actually healthy, to not always be running from one activity to another. This goes for kids, especially, in my opinion; it is good for them to be involved, but it is also so very healthy for them once in a while to sit outside and read or play in the mud or with sticks or, get this, to do absolutely nothing: To be free of devices. To think. To breathe. To live

Saying “no” can also extend into the realm of removing toxic people from your life. To me, this is so critical because life is too short, and we have zero guarantees about tomorrow, so we should not fritter away any more time over toxic individuals. Yet, a lot of us are just too nice. Or is that just me? Tee hee. I’ll give you an example…looks like this:

(Someone says or does something to hurt me)

Me: “I deserve better. I need to remove toxic people from my life!”

Them: “Hey, sorry for that.”

Me: “Heyyyyyy there, it’s ok! Do it again anytime if you need to! Love ya, too!” (Insert all the heart and smiley emojis here)

You laugh, and I laugh, but this is so valid for some people like me; being too nice and worrying so much about making other people happy and not hurting other people that it comes at our own detriment. This needs to stop.

Ultimately, drama and conflict is inevitable in life. Sure, maybe someone might get annoyed or their feelings may get hurt, and that is not ever our intent, yet it should also never be our intent to make our lives more difficult, or to be untrue to ourselves and our needs/wants. At the end of the day, we all have to value ourselves and our precious time as well, and we can’t always say “yes.” If others are truly appreciative of you in their life, they will respect your honesty, openness and your decisions and not hold them against you. They won’t turn their back on you, and if they do, were they ever truly your friend? Saying “no” might be more respectful than you think, especially to yourself.