There is a movie with Jim Carrey where the premise is that he will say Yes to everything and to every request, to everything. It’s a great film and apart from some cringeworthy sex scenes, overwhelmingly he learns to ‘go for it’ and discovers a life he couldn’t have dreamed of. It’s a great message and it’s super tempting to think that saying yes to everything is the source of a great life, and certainly it’s adventurous and outward looking, and as far as that goes, I can’t fault it.
But there is a problem with this way of operating in life. I am as guilty as the next person around this, wanting to people-please, and be thought of in a positive light, I want to say yes to every request made of me, and be there for everyone, and succeed at everything I do. I worked my socks off when my children were younger, taking care of them, as well as working full out as a senior lawyer. I always thought it was possible to outwork my issues, and I would go into the office at weekends and bank holidays, to ‘get ahead’ . If someone seemed to need my help and asked me for something, well what sort of person would I be if I didn’t do it. And the impact on me was that I was overworked, overwhelmed and unhappy.
My own priorities were squashed right to the bottom of the pile and always something more important took precedence. It meant that all around me were things that I hadn’t done, and because I wanted to say yes to people and hated saying no, I ended up avoiding them, or feeling overwhelmed when someone got in touch. It felt like everyone wanted something from me, and I could never deliver enough or give enough.
The answer to all this – I needed to get better at saying no. Simply saying no to things, without making it into a big drama about what people would think about me or what it means. Even to say no, without a reason or long justification about why I can’t do something – well that was a major a step forward.
And that’s such a big thing for many of us, just to say no.
‘No’ can be really powerful. ‘No’ means that you have boundaries. ‘No’ means that you can do what you promised, without being overwhelmed with new requests. ‘No’ means that you finish tasks. ‘No’ means that your own priorities have time to flourish. ‘No’ means that you can take control of your own day.
‘No’ sometimes upsets others, but it’s their issue to sort out. There is some adaptation that they may have to do, to adjust their view of you, but it can happen. They can ask someone else.
There is such power in a simple word. I’m still practising it.