No is a complete sentence

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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.

Good girl.

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13 thoughts on “No is a complete sentence

  1. As someone who has asked for favors before, I love no. I crave no. Someone says no to me I thank them because the only thing I loathe is a yes without a follow-thru. I get a yes and I stop looking, thinking the problem is resolved. If they don’t follow through then I’m worse off down the road with less time to do the thing (whatever it is) than if they’d just said no to begin with. I love no. It’s my second favorite response. When I get a no I have to fight the urge to thank them profusely because, well, that would be weird.

    Then again, someone I know suggested I embrace my weird…

  2. When people put pressure on you after you say no, it’s the worst, because it’s taken you a hell of a long time to get to saying no in the first place. Like, do you think I just said no to see if you could persuade me? 😀
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  3. Really great post. I can definitely relate to having a hard time saying No and it’s something that I’m trying to work on. I have a shirt that says “how about I say No,” and it definitely gives me more confidence. Thank you for writing about this 🙂

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