For many years, one of the hardest words for me to utter was “no”. To me, back then, “no” meant:
• cutting off an opportunity forever
• hurting someone’s feelings
• being perceived as rude or selfish
• admitting I couldn’t do it all (which, to my inner perfectionist, was akin to death!)
There were lots of other things “no” signified to me back in those days.
And an interesting thing happens when we are afraid of “no”: we don’t truly allow the inner wisdom that says “I don’t want this.” Or “the timing’s not right.” There is power in “no.”
A familiar struggle I notice with my coaching clients is this: An opportunity comes their way, but it doesn’t quite feel right. It looks good on paper, but something’s off. A part of them (and usually lots of friends and family, too), is telling them they should jump at the chance, but something tells them it’s either not the opportunity for them, or it’s a great opportunity, but not the right time.
This is a truly tricky spot to be in — if we let fear run the show. In fact, I was recently faced with a situation like this. An opportunity appeared and it looked great. But, somehow, it didn’t feel great. It felt exhausting — when I thought about actually doing it, I felt instantly tired and like I wanted to cry (this, I’ve come to learn, is one of my body’s ways of saying no when I try to push it).
Something I notice is that as I get closer and closer to “mastering” certain skills — in this case, the art of saying no! — the stakes in my decisions tend to feel higher and higher. I’ll hear myself saying, why does this feel so hard? Shouldn’t it be easier by now?
But life tends to throw us bigger challenges when we’re ready for a more challenging playing field. It’s like when you choose the “advanced” level in a video game instead of “intermediate”. Intermediate has gotten a little bit boring, but in the advanced level, it turns out the aliens shoot at you the whole time, not just off and on.
Even after many years of practice, I found it really hard to say no to this recent opportunity. But pushing myself through something that feels deeply exhausting is not walking my talk. It’s not what I stand for.
Let me tell you: the “yes” would have felt easier (in the moment). It is almost always easier for me to say yes when I am asked to participate. Saying yes doesn’t bring up my “stuff” the way no does (and I know this is not the case for everyone — some people have more difficulty with a genuine yes!).
In this case, I needed to say “yes” to permission to say no.
And you know what happened? I got so much support from the person I said no to. My genuine “no” — rather than closing off an opportunity — opened the door to the potential of future opportunities with this same person (who really appreciated my honest response).
I also had the experience of walking my talk when it comes to self-care — and being supported in doing so.
Had I said “yes” in order to not ruffle feathers, in order to not disappoint, in order to avoid the potential of beating myself up for “not doing enough”, I would have reinforced the idea that it’s not safe to say no.
And, my friends, we need to create evidence for ourselves that it is safe to do things that are hard.
Just as I once had an overstuffed file of evidence for my belief that saying no would mean I’d end up alone, I am building evidence for the contrary: saying no can be a powerful form of taking care of myself, and inviting others to support me in that self care — and participate in their own.
In her book The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren calls situational depression “ingenious stagnation.” I wonder about this in terms of giving ourselves permission to say no to more of what our souls just don’t want — would we experience less depression if we had more permission to deliver an authentic no?
Do you find saying no difficult? What helps you do it when it feels scary? I’d love to hear from you.
(If you need help getting clear when you’re “on the fence” about a decision, you might find this post helpful.)
And: I’ll be enrolling in my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program through the end of this month — I have room to work with two more people one-on-one. Please note that the small group version is currently full — but I will likely offer it again in the near future! Find out more here.
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