Last week, the fabulous Liz Gilbert posted a little something about saying “no” on her Facebook page. She wrote about how difficult it was to say “no” to people, that she feared her group of friends would grow smaller as people became upset “because they were angry and hurt that they were no longer getting everything they wanted from (her).”
Turns out, her circle did grow smaller, but those who stayed became her most trusted, dearest friends.
I shared the post because it spoke to me, as so much of what she writes does. Because while I may get a little nag in my guts when I tell someone “no,” I will do it anyway if that’s what I want. I am a happier person when I am doing the tasks that I want to do. And when I am over-worked and -stressed with too much on my plate? I am a less happy person–and I do a crappier job on my commitments.
Seems like a no-brainer to keep my to-do list full of items I actually want to do.
This, apparently, is not a common belief.
Many of the comments on the post I shared were about how women–never men, in this instance–all but had to train themselves to say “no”:
- It didn’t come naturally to a cousin, but she worked at it.
- An acquaintance received coaching about how to make ridiculous requests to hear people say “no”–and, surprisingly, 80 percent of her “unreasonable” requests were granted anyway.
- A friend shared that as she entered her 40s, it became easier. With age, wisdom, I suppose.
- A college friend went a little further, explaining that it’s more than saying “no,” but getting used to not explaining one’s answer. “Every time I feel guilty about saying no,” she wrote, “I remind myself of this literary lesson: ‘The giving tree died – and you are not a tree. Trees are forever rooted in one place … and you have places to go.'” Brilliant.
For me, developing the will–ability? desire? cajones?–to say “no” came out of my high school and early college years. I was always and forever the “nice” friend. I was a fantastic listener who would do anything for anyone, a trait that often results in getting walked on. I’d go along with the crowd, happily doing whatever everyone else wanted to do.
Things changed the second semester of my senior year of college. I had very few credits to take, as I’d packed my early years with gobs of classes. I found myself ready to graduate and leave this faux adulthood that life thrusts upon those 18-year-olds who opt for a four-year, on-campus university experience, and I realized: I wanted to do everything exactly as I wanted to do it for those final months.
So I went out, virtually every night. Not to get shit-faced or stay out until 4 a.m.–I was never much of a partier–but to spend time with these friends I knew I’d never see again. I went out because I knew what my dorm looked like all too well (yes, dorm–I lived on campus all four years of college). I went out because I was recently out of a relationship so serious that, had I hung on a little longer, he would have given me the ring he’d bought (ACK). I went out because I had some college’ing to catch up on.
During that time, I lost one of my closest friends because I was being “selfish,” “naive,” and “full of myself,” opting to enjoy my final months in the city I would soon leave forever instead of staying in every night. I wasn’t sorry then, and I’m even less sorry now.
Over the decade or so since, no one would ever make the mistake of calling me “too nice.” I’m much too blunt for that. I can sugar coat like a champ, but I operate under a simple assumption: We are all adults, and I owe you nothing. Unless “you” are my husband, my parents or brother, or on the short list of my bffs.
Life is entirely too short to fill my days with things I don’t want to do, and I am much more fulfilled when my life is peppered with things that bring me joy: people I love, writing projects, jewelry, The Walking Dead, and more, and more, and more. With this worldview comes a beautiful confidence; I saw a HONY comment yesterday that put it perfectly: “I used to walk into a room and wonder, ‘Will they like me?’ Now I walk in and wonder, ‘Will I like them?'”
Today, saying “no” looks very different than it did in my college years. It’s less “I’m not going to stay home because I want to go out and DO ALL THE THINGS” and more “Go ahead without me. I’ll stay home in my pj’s with ‘A Storm of Swords’ and two fingers of whiskey.” It’s less friends calling me names behind my back because I go out too much and more understanding who are the ones who actually seem to want to spend time with me. It’s looking at the people who have brought me grief in my life and feeling at peace with letting them go, and it’s looking at those who are toxic in their guts and refusing to debase myself similarly.
To paraphrase Ms. Gilbert, go ahead and practice using the word “no.” Understand how to say it, and don’t give a shit. Know what’s up. Be powerful, and be free.