Last week, I was having a lively conversation with two lovely 18-year-old women. One was lamenting about needing to attend a party that evening. The other was commiserating; she had just gone to a friend’s house the week before when she honestly didn’t want to. So I turned to them and asked, “Why didn’t you just decline?” They looked at me like I had two heads.
“I promised I would go,” one of them said. “I don’t want to disappoint anyone.”
“I figured I’d just pop in for 30 minutes,” said the other. “Show my face so they don’t think I’m a total snob. Even though none of my real friends were there.”
And so it begins—the willingness to subsume our own will because of the uniquely uncomfortable feeling that comes from saying no. This phenomenon is by no means confined to youth. All of us, at some point or another, have found ourselves coming up with excuses of our own. ‘Well, he came to our last party, so now I need to go to his. She’ll never let me hear the end of it if I don’t show up. I know we haven’t seen them in months, but they used to be friends.’
The slippery slope
The thing about saying yes when we really mean no is that it tends to extend outwards beyond our personal lives. If we don’t know how to set boundaries with our friends, how much harder is it to do so with our family? With our co-workers? With our extended community?
Let’s face it; there are literally dozens of little—and not so little—commitments demanding a piece of our time. We love to attend our kids’ performances and games, but aren’t so enamoured with the endless carpooling obligations, trips to the store, and lifts to and from the subway or bus stop. We may be willing to visit our aging aunt once every month, but find ourselves roped into delivering groceries every week. We don’t mind putting in a little extra time at work, until the boss starts expecting us to stay late every night. We enjoy occasional volunteering, and then suddenly find ourselves chairing three extra committees.
And suddenly, it’s 11:00 at night—on a Sunday, no less—and you’re still in front of your computer sending that one final email. It’s a Thursday after dinner, and you’re rushing out to buy groceries instead of attending your favourite Zumba class. It’s a weekday in April, and you realize you haven’t seen your best friend since December. Is any of this sounding familiar?
Get off the treadmill!
If so, I daresay you’re peddling too fast. There was a time in my life (and by ‘a time’ I mean roughly seven years) when I quite literally ran my life in 15-minute increments. Fifteen minutes to shower and put on makeup; 15 minutes to return phone calls; 15 minutes for sex, cuz, hey, I need my sleep.
I’m not saying every obligation can be avoided. Sometimes you really are the only one available to buy groceries for your aunt. Sometimes you will need to work late at night for a few weeks on end. But the key word is ‘sometimes.’ No one can give away 100% of themselves all day, every day, and expect to remain sane. If you don’t make time for yourself, you’ll be eaten alive.
Sure, saying no can be uncomfortable. But it gets easier with practice. That’s why I recommend you practice with the little things first. Start off by declining to attend a party where none of your friends are going to show up anyway. Continue by declining to bake a cake when you next visit a friend; buy one instead. Solidify the commitment by declining to volunteer when the next opportunity arises. Soon enough, you’ll discover the freedom in saying no. No, I can’t drive you to the subway. Sorry, I can only deliver groceries once every two weeks. I apologize, but my schedule requires me to be home earlier starting next month. Thanks, but I can’t fit another obligation onto my calendar.
And, no—this isn’t selfishness. It’s self-preservation. Like anything in life, it requires a balance. A little time for others, a little time for yourself, all by discovering the power of a little two-letter word.
About Aviva Rabinovici
In the corporate world, my bio generally underscores my extensive business experience. After earning a law degree, I started up my own company called AR Communications Inc., which is now one of North America’s leading copywriting boutiques. I’m proud of these achievements, but they don’t tell the story of what’s closest to my heart. What truly makes me shine is having nurtured a passionate, loving marriage for almost 25 years; raising three phenomenal children who light up my life; sustaining a 20+ year yoga practice; and most recently co-founding Conscious and Carefree—a blog dedicated to exploring how to live life fully in joy. You can find us at www.bcarefree.com, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.
This blog was originally published at www.bcarefree.com.