Young african-american woman covering her face with palm saying no. Girl denying proposal, making stop gesture with her hand.

Saying No to Myself

We all know we’re supposed to say no. We’ve heard the advice ad nauseum–say no to things that aren’t serving you. Say no to things you don’t have the time or the energy for. I set out to do just that this year. I have a lot going on. I’m going to say no to things. I’m not taking on anything new.

The universe tested me right off the bat, tempting me with things I want to do, but don’t have time for. A week into 2022, I was asked to be on the advisory board for a local university’s women in leadership program. I am all about women in leadership. I was tempted to say yes, and I considered it, to be honest. It’s so important, right? But I remembered my promise to myself and respectfully declined.

Something I realized while I was considering the invitation was that I wasn’t only saying no to the university. I was saying no to myself. I have major FOMO. I am not inclined to say no to much. I don’t want to miss out on things. Plus, let’s face it, there’s something more sinister at play. It was more than the university’s mission that was tempting. My ego got involved too. How nice that they asked me. Me! How nice that they thought I was qualified. How cool and prestigious to be able to say I’m on a university advisory board.

I used to have a boss who used my ego against me. “Leanne, I know it’s a holiday, and I know you have plans to go out of town, but I really need you. You are the only person in the entire office that I can trust to get this job done right.” Heady stuff, to be needed. To be the only person someone can trust. To be the only person who can get something done right. Heady stuff–at least the first few times, until you realize you’re being manipulated. Until you acknowledge that anyone in the office is just as qualified to type up the hours of Saturday dictation your boss left on your desk before he went golfing. Then it’s downright embarrassing to admit you can so easily be dragged around by your ego.

When I said no to being on the advisory board, I acknowledged my fear of missing out on things (a fear likely born of being an unpopular kid who was always picked last when choosing sides for sports). I acknowledged my fear that I would never be asked to do something like that (or anything) ever again. I acknowledged the part my ego played in my desire to say yes. I was not letting anyone down by saying no–someone just as or better qualified would be thrilled to serve.

I said no to myself.

Then I started thinking about what saying no to myself means. It means saying no to things that stroke my ego, yes. It means dealing with my fears. But it also means not being so demanding of myself. This year, it means postponing some of the goals I’d set for myself while I focus on others. I’m finishing copyediting school this year, but I’m postponing my goal to get all my photos organized and digitized. I’m reading more books by Latinx authors this year, but I’m postponing my goal to read each and every book on my bookshelves. I’m rewriting my book this year, but I’m postponing my goal to watch all 94 of the Academy Award Best Picture winners in order. I’ll have more time for those things next year, after I finish school.

WRITER TIP: When I was deciding what to say no to this year, I also reminded myself there are things I need to say yes to. Yes to time with my family. Yes to sunshine and walks on the beach. Yes to reading in the evenings. Yes to lounging in bed a little longer on a Sunday morning. I tend to be a little too driven–how about you? It’s easy for me to get so busy that I’m living, but not living. While you’re saying no to things that don’t serve you, be sure to say all the yes to the things that make life worth living.