I did a keynote speech at The Lady Project Summit recently and Avery and Erica made a meme of it. Which flatters me beyond belief. I LOVE being a meme.
It captures something that I said during the Q&A section of my talk when a woman in the audience asked me about finding balance. Dozens of heads around her nodded as if they were equally baffled by this idea of how to have a balanced life while still having clean clothes, a side-hustle, fulfilling relationships and a strong core.
Like many people, I have a hard time saying no. There are a million prettier ways to say this, but the reason I struggle to say no comes down to one thing:
I want people to like me.
Actually, I want people to love me.
That desire has been prevalent my whole life. I have always tried to make people happy: I do what they want me to do, I am who they want me to be. I want people to think that I am reliable and kind and just…good. In the brief moments where I feel like maybe I’ve succeeded, there is this emotional high. But then, like all things, that feeling of approval fades. And I have to find some other hoop to jump through to prove something to someone.
It’s not one of my most charming attributes.
It’s not a bad thing to want to help people–a life of service is a beautiful thing. But when it happens in place of your own needs, it’s unsustainable. You burn out. And then you’re no good to anyone.
I had to say no to someone recently. Two years ago I would have said yes because it would have satisfied my people-pleasing nature. I would have hated every second but I would have done it, waiting for that moment when someone patted me on the head and called me a Good Girl. Which might happen. Or it might not.
But I took a deep breath and tried not to cringe visibly as I said no. I didn’t go into a diatribe about why I had to say no. I just said that wasn’t going to be possible. (And then I blurted out “sorry” because that’s my reflex – it was like trying to hold back a sneeze.)
And it all felt terrible.
But then pretty soon, it didn’t feel terrible anymore.
Because I wasn’t being selfish. I was being reasonable. It was not something I could have done without being totally overloaded and resentful. It was not going to be good for anyone.
No is a complete sentence.
I can’t make everyone happy all the time. I’m going to do things that piss people off and make them mad at me. Not everyone is required to like me.
But I like myself a hell of a lot better when I say no sometimes. I remember what my priorities are and I include myself on the list of people who deserve to be happy.
And then I can give my own self a pat on the head.