One little word. You’d think by now we’d all know how to use it. But we don’t, do we? By now, in my 40’s, I should be able to say “no” and not feel any repercussions. I should be able to stand up tall, look you in the eye, and say no and mean it. And most days I can. But what happens on the days I don’t?
Those days are the ones that come back to haunt me: Yes, I’ll sub that class. Join you for a late dinner. Go to that movie. Take on that client. Overbook my schedule. And yes, while I’m at it, I’ll resent the hell out of every one of those things I did when I said yes instead of saying no. Because sometimes, saying yes to someone else means you’ve said no to yourself. And so it begins. This is how imbalance starts.
I’m not sure when no became a four letter word. I was raised to say yes ma’am, but I don’t think my Momma meant for me to agree with everything or take on the whole world, so why did I? The people-pleaser in me can answer that. I just wanted to please everyone. The introvert in me can also weigh in. It’s easier than potential conflict or explaining why. But here’s what happened: I wasn’t included in the pleased crowd, and it was harder on me to do what I said I would because I knew when I agreed that I didn’t want to. So what else happens? The scale tips to resentment, fatigue, bitterness, downright anger. We spew it out like venom and we turn it on ourselves. There’s no good side to this.
The problem starts early (I’m not even sure when) and snowballs. You see, yes becomes a habit. Like going to the gym or practicing yoga. Actually, more like smoking. Going to the gym and practicing yoga are good things; smoking-not so much. And unlike going to the gym, smoking is something you should quit. So is saying yes.
I can say this because I have done it: quitting smoking is difficult on the best days. Quitting “Yes-sing” makes quitting smoking look like a cake-walk. When I quit saying yes, it was like learning a new language. No. Nonononono. NO NO NO NO NO. OMG, what was this unfamiliar sound coming from my mouth? As it turns out, it was the sound of balance coming back into my life.
When you’ve said yes forever, people who’ve known this (you’ve trained them-sometimes over years- to expect a yes) have no idea what to do when you start to say no. They’ll ask you what’s wrong, are you alright, and whatever other questions they can come up with to see exactly what brought this on. They will look at you the first time you say no like you’ve sprouted a horn from your third eye space. “Bless her heart, something must be wrong. She said NO. I hope this passes.” Keep going. That unfamiliar feeling…it’s fabulous. Get used to it. It’s balance. Maybe it’s been a while since you felt it, so it’s totally foreign. That’s ok. You’re on the right path.
What I’ve learned through this process is the fine art of listening to myself, my body, my gut. I can feel the physiological changes happening when a false yes comes out of my mouth. Let’s face it: it’s a big fat LIE. I’m not a liar, so I have given myself permission to just tell the truth. (It’s not ugly; it just is.) I have learned to say no.
I still waffle on occasion, but I have become a reformed Yes-woman. The road wasn’t easy. I still back pedal and fall into old behavior sometimes. But I have learned this, and it is the most important lesson: if it’s not a hell yes, it has to be a hell no. Hell no keeps me sane, keeps me rested, keeps me in a space of kindness instead of resentment. When I say no to you, I’m really saying YES to me. And at the end of the day, that is the yes that matters most.