Learning to Say No

noI’m not good at saying “no.” I have horrible boundaries, and I often let people take advantage of me. Most of the time I don’t mind. Usually it’s something I enjoy or am happy to help out with.

Like my job at Splickety. That came about because I asked the founder if there was anything I could help with. So he took me up on it. And I haven’t regretted it for a moment. I’m even willing to take on more responsibility as the magazine grows because I love it and I am fulfilled by it.

Or at church, singing in the worship band or being involved with women’s ministry. I love singing, and the way the rotation works, it doesn’t take up very much of my time, so being in the band is a pleasure. Working with the women, too, is usually pretty low-pressure. I helped plan the retreat this year, and my duties were limited to making sure a couple jobs got done and MCing at the retreat itself. I have no problem being in front of people (and truth be told I enjoy being the center of attention occasionally), so it was fun.

But I have a really hard time knowing when enough is enough. I was asked about a year ago to consider helping lead the women’s Bible study, and I felt bad that I couldn’t be counted on for that, but it was a time commitment I just couldn’t make. I tried at first, but there was always something that came up, so instead of letting everyone down by not being prepared, I had to say I couldn’t commit to it.

Recently, I’ve had to make the decision to say no to something.

My darling sister-in-law talks often about setting priorities and only doing the things you actually want to do, and I admire her ability to tell people “No way, José!” so she only crams into her very busy schedule the things she actually wants and needs to do.  And she does a lot. She’s one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial people I know, creating her own businesses and speaking and consulting and a host of other things on top of being an excellent wife and mother. Honestly, I don’t know how she does it. But one of her rules is to be willing to tell people she doesn’t have the time and even that she just plain doesn’t want to help with whatever they’re doing.

So, taking a page from her book, I told someone no. And I didn’t make excuses or ask my hubby to tell them he didn’t want me doing it (which I’ve done before–I’ve let him protect me by being my reason why I couldn’t take on another task). I just plainly explained why I didn’t want to continue doing the thing after the period I’ve already committed to is over.

It wasn’t freeing. It wasn’t liberating. I don’t feel refreshed.

I feel horrible and guilty. I feel like I’m letting them down. I feel like it’s my fault they can no longer do the things they want to do because they needed me to do my part so they could do theirs. I feel bad because I’m saying no to someone I love and with whom I want to maintain a good relationship. I second-guess myself because I feel like I’m quitting, and I feel like I can’t be counted on. I’m frustrated for feeling like that, even though I didn’t realize when I initially made the commitment it would be as hard on me as it is.

But despite my guilt, I know it was the right thing to do.

Selfishly, it was the right thing to do for me because committing to this thing is wearing me out. I’m already committed for a specific amount of time, and I’ll see it through because I said I would, but the thought of continuing on beyond that causes my heart to race. I am tense and frustrated and not doing the things I want and need to do. My own home and family and writing is suffering because I’m doing for others instead of for me.

Yes, I feel guilty. Yes, I feel selfish for saying it’s about me and what I want. Yes, I feel terrible about letting them down. Yes, I wish I had the energy and the desire to do it all. But I don’t, and so despite the guilt and the nagging worry about the self-centeredness of my decision, I feel good, because I’m looking forward to not being stressed and not being worn out and I’m looking forward to giving the best of myself to my family.


About Avily Jerome

Avily Jerome is a writer and the editor of Havok Magazine. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, both print and digital. She has judged several writing contests and is a writing conference teacher and presenter. She writes speculative fiction, her ideas ranging from almost-real-world action/adventures to epic fantasies to supernatural thrillers.

4 comments on “Learning to Say No

  1. Avily, I’ve had a hard time saying no in the past, too. That sense of guilt can be overwhelming.

    I’ve had to say no so very much since 2004. First it was, “No, I can’t help you with that, I’m too ill. But I could really use YOUR help! You can’t help me, either? Oh. Oh no.”

    Something I learned through that experience was that no matter how giving I had been before, no matter how much I had over-extended myself, when the chips were down and I was the one needing help, almost no one I knew–that I had ever helped–could make the time or effort to come alongside me and be a help in return.

    They turned out to be not the kind of people who make a good support group. That was a horribly painful lesson.

    Since then, I’ve had to say a lot of, “No, I can’t help you, or go there or do that, because the venue is going to make me ill. I’ve gotten my health back to a certain point where I can actually enjoy a lot of things in life and not be ill all the time. Since that is a good thing which I treasure…no.”

    When I don’t say no when I should, I pay an extremely high price.

    If only I’d learned to say no earlier in life, if I’d understood the need to say no to certain types of stress and demands, and situations which physically exhausted me and (as it turned out) destroyed my health, maybe…I wouldn’t be in so much of a predicament now, where I find myself needing to say no to just about everyone and everything–because I have to protect the little health I have now. And maybe, the echoing lack of people to rally around me (besides family) wouldn’t be my reality or hurt quite so badly.

    My case is a bit extreme, but Avily, please DON’T feel guilty about taking good care of you! You need to do that. I’m glad you’ve got a good husband who also clearly cares about you and is willing to help protect you from the onslaught of other people’s needs. That’s great! I hope you look out for each other and stay healthy and well.

    Choose wisely those efforts you decide to make that take you beyond the borders of caring for your home and family. Protect that ability to help others as well as yourself.

    Boundaries are good. Boundaries are not selfish. Keep them. ((((HUGS))))

    • Thank you so much for your encouragement!!!
      I’m glad you’re at a place where your health is coming back. That’s a place I don’t want to get to, if I can help it. 🙂

  2. I learned a long time ago that although my family and my church each have a valid claim on a portion of my time, only God has a valid claim on all of my time. I have to do what He put me here to do.

    Saying no to church work is the hardest. “But it’s an important mission.” “But we need you.” “But you’d be great at it.”

    Those are all true but irrelevant. I know what my mission is. I need to stick to that and not work to please people. One of the things I’ve said no to — repeatedly — and I’ll keep saying no — is our annual retreat. I’ll provide support. I’ll send the newsletters and do other back-up work, but don’t expect me to go off and spend five days in the woods singing and waiting tables. That’s not my calling. Every time I start feeling guilty about that, I remind myself that every time I’ve skipped one of these retreat weekends, God has put me in a position to serve a writer, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I’d been in the woods.

    Ultimately, we answer to only one boss, and as long as we’re saying Yes to Him, everyone else will have to learn to accept our “No.”

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