The Hardest Words (Part 2): No

I have always had a hard time saying “No”. While I’m no pushover, I definitely don’t like disappointing people. The trouble is while I might not disappoint others, I disappoint myself in the process.

After a year-long rumble with myself, I made the decision to hire someone to clean my house. This seemingly small decision was a big breakthrough: I was giving myself permission to accept help. With a blend of guilt and excitement, I started researching local referrals.

The first person I interviewed showed up to my door unmasked and 10 minutes late. My Spidey-senses were already on screaming on high alert, but I told myself “to relax”, “just get through it”, and “give her a chance”. After she reluctantly put a mask on, I walked her through the house. Unfortunately, the walk through didn’t make things better and I walked away feeling worse about my decision to hire someone than before she came. Still, in spite of it being a disappointing experience, I was actively trying to convince myself to give it a shot. After all, I still needed help right? Why, Paula? Why?!

How many times have we done this to ourselves? We suppress our instincts, justify other people’s behavior, and ignore what we know in our gut to be true: It just isn’t a good fit. We do this when we stay in bad marriages because we are afraid of being alone. We do this when we stay at toxic organizations because we need a job. We do this when we don’t speak up and articulate our needs because we don’t want to rock the boat and disappoint someone. When we settle for less than we know we need we betray ourselves.

The next day I interviewed another individual. In stark contrast, she showed up fully masked and on time. Immediately put at ease, I walked her through the house and talked through her services. It hit every mark and I hired her on the spot. Not only did I not have to say “No”, but it was a resounding “Yes!”.

Clear is kind, unclear is unkind. The willingness to say “No” is not only kind, it is rooted in practicing good boundaries. Brené Brown teaches that the concept of boundaries are very easily understood as “Here’s what’s ok, and here’s what’s not ok”. We teach people how we want to be treated, what we expect in relationships, and what we will tolerate. Having personal agency is an active state and we must be diligent about it.

This was another reminder for me to pay attention to my instincts and not justify behavior. It’s ok to say no. It’s ok if it doesn’t feel right. It’s ok if it isn’t a good fit. Name the scarcity/fear and stay true to yourself. After all, saying no to the things that don’t fit in your life well leaves space for the things that do.

Tell me: Do you have a hard time saying “No”? Do you struggle with disappointing others at your expense? Where can you say “No” today to leave space for a resounding “Yes”?


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