Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should
In this rat race we’re running, the rats are getting faster. Or maybe they’re just wearing backpacks now so they can carry even more stuff with them. Either way, I’m starting to worry.
Every day I talk to women who find they are reflexively saying yes to every single thing asked of them – and then staying up half the night to cram these extra tasks into their already overbooked schedules. (Because really, since they’re already working through lunch and skipping workouts, where else is the overflow going to go?)
It feels like the requests to add one more thing to our already overflowing To Do lists are relentless. They come from all sides at all hours, and still we say YES, practically throwing on our little rat running shoes as we shoulder our overstuffed rat backpacks, so loaded down with tasks to carry that we can barely move.
Need a cake for tomorrow’s party? Sure, no problem.
Two dozen purple butterfly costumes by next week? You got it.
That new report by Friday? She’s on it.
17 plastic yellow folders with prongs and pockets but no holes? She’ll track them down.
Someone to coach the youth sports team this season? Absolutely.
Need a meeting with that impossible-to-pin-down VP at Company X? She’ll get it done.
An .mp3 of some obscure song from 1983? Just ask her!
I mean come on.
It’s like we’re competing for some imaginary award that is given to the woman who can say yes to absolutely everything without collapsing.
But here’s the catch. There is no award. There is only exhaustion. And ultimately resentment.
I’ve been guilty of this more times than I can count. “I can do it,” I say to myself. “It’ll only take a few minutes.” “Why not?”
Here’s why not.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Listen, sometimes, the right answer is yes. Helping others is part of being a good human, after all! (I’m making my fourth dessert in seven days today – all for end of year school events – all of which I’ve been DELIGHTED to do. That’s not what I’m talking about here.)
I’m talking about when the best answer is no.
Sometimes, you have to say no.
Sometimes you need to protect an unscheduled hour so your daughter can build up the nerve to tell you about what’s been going on in the cafeteria. Sometimes you need that thirty minute walk for the creative idea to gel in your mind. Sometimes you need two extra hours of sleep so you can get through the next day without four shots of espresso. Sometimes you need sixty seconds to hug someone you love extra tight before you go your separate ways for the day.
So…how do you know? How can you tell if you’re saying yes too often?
Well, first you’ll feel chronically rushed. Late. Behind. Overwhelmed. You’ll feel guilt that you’re not doing anything well. You’ll let clutter accumulate. You’ll find yourself only half listening. You’ll forget things – first unimportant ones and then ones that actually matter.
If you’re in a place where you’re seeing those things happen, then try this. Take off your rat backpack and grab a chair. Take a good hard look at every single item in that pack to re-evaluate what you’ve been carrying around with you, the things you’ve assumed you have to do. Perhaps you’ll need to let go of some of them – to lighten your load – to clear some space.
And once you do, then to maintain this new equilibrium, you’ll need to start practicing the art of saying no. I work on this with clients all the time. It’s not easy, especially at first. But it’s essential.
If saying a straight “No” is too hard, then say “Not this time,” or “Any other day,” ” I wish I could give this the attention it deserves,” or even “Please ask me again!” Just don’t say yes if you need to say no.
Somewhere along the way, we bought into a myth that filling all 24 hours each day was our job. But it’s not. Our job is to bring our very best self into the world. Our rested, energized, motivated, positive, gifted self. The self who does amazing work and forges strong relationships and has room to breathe. Being that person requires saying no to some things that we could do, but choose not to do.
When in doubt, remember this: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Questions: Do you struggle with saying “no”? What negative effects do you see in your life that stem from saying “yes” too often?
Almost every single negative effect you listed in this article appears in my life as a result of my inability to turn people down. I’m always rushed, late (so unprofessional), behind on projects, overwhelmed and I no longer do ANYTHING at my best. I don’t listen very well because I simply can’t – I’m physically and mentally exhausted. I forget EVERYTHING – and what a let down that is for others expecting things from me. I used to think that my forgetfulness was just how my brain operated, but I’m realizing I’ve put too much pressure on myself, and it will never get better unless I start saying “no.”
I LOVE your suggestion to not really say “no,” but to say “not at this time” or “I wish I could, but my plate is too full right now.” Seems much nicer and less harsh – and maybe the guilt that comes along with saying “no” will be lessened by taking this approach.
Thanks for the great article, and for the reminder to re-evaluate and prioritize!!
I love your bravery in sharing that! It’s a great wakeup call to recognize those signs in yourself and you can use that awareness to embolden you to try a “no” here and there! Best of luck!
It is so freeing when you learn to say “no”. Some thoughts that popped into my mind while reading this…
What example are we setting for our kids? Seriously. Do they see a mom who sets healthy boundaries or one like you describe above? Whether or not we struggled with this BEFORE kids, having kids takes it to a new level with all their commitments and activities. There’s a lot of pressure to give our kids every opportunity that comes their way and to be uber-involved parents. It takes a lot of courage, conviction, and faith to not get caught up in that insanity (of course, “insanity” is my opinion!). We all know moms who seemingly can “do it all”, but I have come to believe that’s an illusion or a rare exception.
Besides learning to say “no”, it helps to think about why we say “yes”. It’s easy to say we just want to be helpful and we care. Yet, when digging deeper, I have to admit to myself that it usually has to do with wanting to look good to others, people pleasing, fear of missing out, and thinking no one else can do it as well. Ouch – not as flattering as being helpful and caring! Because I want to live an authentic life and be true to what helps me be the best version of myself, acknowledging such motives has made it so much easier for me to say “no”. In fact, I’ve even been known to say “not my thing” on occasion!
Sometimes it’s still hard for me to accept that I can’t do everything. That my energy level has limitations. Sometimes it still takes over-stretching myself to remember and get back to what is most important to me. Thankfully, those times are fewer and farther apart.
I love your use of the phrase “Not my thing!” It’s honest and freeing both for you and the person asking! I really think knowing what IS your think and what IS NOT makes it easier to say no to the requests that draw you away from your best self.