From the pressures to work more hours and be accessible seven days a week,
to the attention demanding tap- dancing clown jangle ring of the phone,
the digital "deal with me now" flow of emails,
to the increased pressure of the holidays to give goods as a symbol of caring (even when our own coffers are bare)...
all of us have the desire to somehow service the requests of families (chosen and un-chosen), friends, and work colleagues. And this is a wonderful pro-social tendency, this desire to cooperate and support each other.
However, a desire to be of service can become tricky when it becomes a need to avoid the difficulty of saying “no". I think that when we stop engaging as choice makers, (making use of whatever personal agency we can access) we may miss the opportunity to develop a loving kind of maturity. And I do think this is really hard to do, so let's be nice about it... particularly if you have experiences growing up in which you were rewarded with positive feedback when negating your own needs.
Sometimes saying "no" can seem difficult for other reasons. Saying "no" may evoke a sense of grief or loss. For example, perhaps when saying "no" to relationships that might be tempting in the moment but problematic in the long run...or when the the desire to be viewed in a highly favorable light at work runs smack into your very human production capabilities...or when saying "no" to the nagging Inner Grand Maestro of Unrealistic Expectations who willfully insists, "yes, you can do it all for everyone. You can make it to the end of your to do list, you can love everyone and everyone can (and must) love you. You can be perfect. So snap to it."
Challenging the Inner Grand Maestro of Unrealistic Expectations can be an entertaining thought experiment. I suggest you try it. We can't do it all for everyone. We do have to decide, as much as is within our power to, our own priorities and values. In the midst of the sometimes seemingly ordinary aspects of our lives there is still a kind of profundity about our human existence.
The fact is that you will never get to the end of your to do list. Every day we dance in a constant data stream, every moment a new improvisation filled with unexpected situations, opportunities, people, work responsibilities, our own shifting impulses and hopes for the future.
And you can't love everyone and not everyone can love you. We sometimes place our self worth too much on the evaluation of others. Whether a caregiver was unable to give the care we needed as a child, or a boss who seems oblivious to all the work we put in, or a love partner (s) who may be having their own challenges... we sometimes come to the invalid conclusion that the human limitations they experience are a direct reflection of our core love-ability.
Additionally, saying “yes” to too many small, inconsequential requests can use up energy you might use to fuel other endeavors more in line with your personal values. You may find yourself stuck in a job you hate without even considering moves to improve your situation. You may find yourself arranging your day to suit the agenda of others without consideration to your own life agenda. You may find yourself saying "yes" to that Inner Grand Maestro of the Unrealistic and running down a path of frantic busyness, far from the places you are actually trying to get to. So practice saying “no”. Do it kindly. Do it gently. But do it and walk away.
I love the work of Therapist and Spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant in this area, and she says, “You have to set standards for how you want to be treated and what you expect from yourself and for yourself."
Every day you are engaged in the challenging and exciting work of learning how to love and live with other tender humans. Part of that learning is acknowledging your human limitations, your own gifts, passions, and values. "Service" to others need not mean "no service" to self.
So, when you notice that a small "ask" (can you...do you have time to...this is due...do you mind...) sets off an internal blast of frustration, start practicing “no”. Start small. Start safe. Experiment. See what happens. You can always change your mind.
"No, I am focusing on spending more time with (fill in the blank such as family, friends, church, etc.) but I appreciate you thinking of me"... Or "No, I am working on my (fill in the blank: creative writing, bubble blowing, public speaking, favourite hobby)"... or"No, as much as I m dying to check my email, I am going to focus on the person in front of me...or "No, I'm not going to beat myself up for making a mistake. I am human. This is how I learn."
Practice saying “no”. Do it kindly. Do it gently. But do it and walk towards the “yeses" that truly matter to you.
(Re-edited from my previous post on evolvedgirl.net.)
(The photo above is taken from www.picnoi.com-diverse stock photography: please check them out. And a thanks to Constance Lynn Hummel, RCC for including a page of inclusive and diverse stock photography on her site)