In Part 1 of the “Art of No-or Why Saying No IS Self Care” I talked a lot about my experience as a small business owner & how I first learned to say no as a financial & sanity saving survival skill. (If you missed it, you can catch up on that here). I learned that by setting some boundaries for myself, it freed me up to schedule my days in ways that felt good to me, & freed up time for more types of creative expression that I really enjoyed.
This was when I really had the school of hard knocks teaching me about who was in control of my time. I learned to only take phone calls from people wanting to talk to the owner (usually a sales call or a fundraising call–or basically a call from someone who had an agenda, & I quickly figured out how to discern if their agenda lined up with mine) at the end of the day when it was slowest. I didn’t accept drop in sales calls from sales people who didn’t respect my time. And I stopped feeling obligated to manage purchasing multiple things that I didn’t love looking at or working with in an effort to please everyone (trying to please everyone is a recipe for failure!).
But it took me many more years to clue in that this was a skill that I only learned to apply to one small area of my life.
Sadly, being self employed didn’t teach me (at first!) to say no to working far too much and an overwhelming amount of stress in my work and professional life until I really had no choice-my body literally said “No” for me.
So. I should really also back up a little & clarify this by saying that I was terrible at saying no at anything my whole life. Like really bad.
If someone asked me for a favour, I would bend over backwards to help them out. If I was asked to babysit, I would say yes unhesitatingly even if my week was jam packed and I had no evenings off. If someone wanted me to pick up a shift for them at work, I would take it because I wanted to help them out and knew that sometimes I would need the same favour returned even if that meant working myself 50-60 hours a week.
I wasn’t trying to be super woman—-I just felt plain bad and terribly guilty at the thought of saying no.
(Again-I do not think I’m not alone in this-as women we are so conditioned to be helpful, supportive, accommodating, & even still in “this day & age”-to please others–that saying no doesn’t come easily to many.)
But not ACTUALLY saying no just started to make me feel bad —ALL the time.
Filling that shift at work that I was really too tired to take felt bad. I got tired. I got resentful. My stress was off the charts. My health was bad. I wasn’t filling my cup—I was allowing everyone else to fill theirs. Something had to change.
Sound familiar to you?
I had to face some facts & look at why I felt this way. Why was putting other people’s needs first more important than looking after myself? Than deserving a day off? Why did I feel obligated to work-because I wasn’t scheduled so I “could” & therefore should?
Knowing how uncomfortable I was with saying no, I realized that I had to somehow figure out how to do it without feeling bad about it. But walking around feeling angry with all of the obligations that I didn’t want to commit to in the first place felt even worse.
So I started to play with re framing it a little—because I HAD to. It was a matter of survival. I started to think, what if I just looked at it a little differently? How can I turn a no into a yes? What if I started thinking that saying no was really my way of protecting my time with myself? Because it was, wasn’t it?
So this was what I would do. When something came up that required a commitment from me, the very first thing I would do was not feel pressured to answer right away so that I wouldn’t default to just saying yes. (It takes time to form new habits, right?) I would say something like, “I’m not sure-let me double check my schedule & get back to you”.
Then, once the pressure was off to say yes then and there, I had the space to ask myself “Is this something I want to do? Is this something I want to give energy to? Is this something I HAVE time & energy to do?”
And if it wasn’t, I’d identify that I needed to protect my time, my energy, and/or my integrity. I would respond with something like… “Thanks for thinking of me to cover your shift, but that night I have plans”….with MYSELF.
Saying no to things that are not in alignment with your wants, your heart’s desires, your goals, or even whatever you want to focus on this particular week is SAYING YES TO YOURSELF.
I’ll say that again: Sometimes saying no to others is saying yes to yourself.
It is saying, “Yes, the fact that you desperately need some down time to lie in bed to recover from a 60 hour school & work week and read a juicy novel is imperative & IMPORTANT”.
It is saying “Yes, you have a finite amount of time in the week and these 2 hours in question are far more valuable for something else, like my partner, my family, self care, taking a class just for fun or WHATEVER”.
It’s saying of all of the precious energy I have to use and manifest things in my life, this (*insert your thing here— even if it’s lying on the couch & binge watching Netflix today*) is what I want to use it for.
Now I’m not saying I turned into a No Pro overnight. (Yes, I just made that up). It took time. And then maybe I developed that skill a bit more in the area of work but not so much with family or personal relationships. It can be a lot harder to set boundaries here, particularly when you have amazing people in your life that have supported you in many ways and you want to do the same for them.
And I’m not talking about being the kind of No Pro that’s miserly & scrooge-y & never wants to help anyone out or do anything that doesn’t serve yourself. We all have obligations that we can’t always simply decline. But there’s many that we can.
Think of all of the other ways “no” can serve you—not only protecting your time and energy for the things and people you love the most. It can also serve you by not stretching yourself so thin that you are not available for your partner, your family, your kids, your sleep. But you—yes you—are number one on that list.
Trying to have a hand in doing 20 things as best you can rather than really rocking out 2 or 3 not only protects your time and your energy, it also protects your integrity. This is where “no’s” excel. And no one appreciates a good “no” possibly more so than the very vehicle that you cruise along through this life in—your body.
This leads me to another point that I had alluded to earlier: I HAD to change. I had no choice. It really was a matter of me needing to prioritize time for myself, to protect sacred time for myself by saying no, because I discovered that running on that level all the time-working multiple shifts, agreeing to cut someone’s hair on my only night off, babysitting for someone when I needed to look after myself–using up that finite amount of life force energy that we have as well as everything in reserve is in no way sustainable.
What this looked like for me: not being able to get out of bed in the morning (literally), not able to work longer than four hour shifts without deep exhaustion, & the act of making breakfast was so tiring that I needed to go back & lie in bed for another couple of hours to recover. And recovering from this kind of burnout literally takes *years*.
Does this sound like something you have time for?
I saw so much fatigue & burnout in many of the industries I worked in. In the hospitality industry, the daily adrenaline rushes that go with any busy lunch or dinner service, combined with irregular hours & working nights definitely is a recipe for burnout. In the hair dressing industry-the people who ran full schedules & multiple clients & had a hard time saying no
& were bending all kinds of backwards trying to accommodate their clients suffered too. I see it in shiftworkers, nurses who work long hours with a high amount of stress, and any kind of seasonal work where you have to hustle & make hay while the sun shines. (And hey-sometimes we have times where we have to hustle & that’s ok. Just realize-& promise yourself-that it needs to be temporary). And constant mental stress can be just as bad.
This is really a long-winded and roundabout way of saying: SAY YES to yourselves, lovelies. Say YES. Give yourself the gift of teaching yourself an artful “no”. If you feel like you were never given permission, here it is—print it out and stick it up on your bathroom mirror:
“I, Dionne Jennings, recovering people pleaser and former supreme master failure of the Art of “No”, hereby give you permission to say NO to ANY DAMN THING YOU WANT to.”
Say no just because. Say it out loud in the kitchen. Repeat it over & over like a mantra. Feel how voicing no to the outside world can feel like a giant big juicy YES inside you. A yes TO you.
This is YOUR life. You get to decide how you want to use it, how you want to express yourself. How you want to spend your time. What causes you want to align with. What you want to nourish. Who you want to love.
Exercise the “no”, my friends. It is a radical act of self love & self care. I promise you your very life depends on it.
With love & green blessings for a nourishing & restful season,
your YEG Community Herbalist