A few weeks ago, I met a fellow cancer warrior, “Mindy”. She was recently diagnosed and, as one can imagine, she’s scared, overwhelmed, and not feeling well. We spent an afternoon talking for two hours. In that conversation, Mindy lamented about all the responsibilities she had in her life. Kids, husband, church, neighbors, friends… Endless. And now all these dang time-intensive treatments that loomed ahead!
Case in point: Mindy is a volunteer for an organization she loves but she doesn’t feel she has the time or energy to stay involved anymore. When she mentioned it to the powers-that-be, the guy kind of blew her off. She was frustrated. I stopped her right there. It was time to learn the word No. Simple, two letter, easy-to-spell, easy to pronounce NO. She needed to call the guy back up and say “I can’t do this anymore.” End of story. No apologies, no excuses, no guilt. If her kids needed something that wasn’t essential, the answer must be NO. If a neighbor asks a favor, the answer is NO. It’s ok. When you’re fighting for your life, finally, we become number one priority. And, really, it should always be this way. If we aren’t taking care of ourselves, what good are we to anyone else?
That means all of us. In a failing marriage, dating again, single, being a mom, an employee, daughter or sister, member of the community, in a church or other volunteer organization… Our needs must always matter. But I think we women forget it all too often and typically we put ourselves last, to our own detriment.
It is illogical why it took me some 44 years to become comfy with saying No. Before getting cancer and marching my sick ass out of an abusive marriage, “No” was only used under dire circumstances. I was, after all, a people pleaser and the word No was terrifying to me. I wanted everyone to like me and to think my life was perfect. I worked really super hard at accomplishing this. Here are some examples:
From my then-boyfriend (now my ex-husband)
“Let’s buy this big huge house.” My answer: Yes. The answer I wanted to give was No, I don’t want that house, it’s too big, too expensive, I love my little condo. With Yes, I am now financially tied to you and I don’t even love you. So we bought a big huge house together. I hated it. Oh well, gotta say YES anyway so I can please this guy I don’t care about. (Stupid, I know.)
“Will you marry me?” My answer: Yes. What I really wanted to say was No! I don’t love you. It’s too soon. But I put on that white dress and said “I do” anyway.
From my former in-laws
“Can you host Thanksgiving dinner for the family this year?” Me: “Of course! And before everyone arrives, I’ll single-handedly clean the house, do all the grocery shopping, and fix every side dish, main dish, and dessert by scratch! When we’re all done, I’ll clean the house until it’s perfect all by myself before going to bed at 1:00 AM.”
From my employer
“I know we promised you that this new job would enable you to leave the office every night by 5:30 but we weren’t exactly honest. We expect you to work about 55 hours per week. Oh, and by the way, can you take on this new video project?” My answer: Sure! Who cares that I have a child who was left alone after soccer practice for almost 45-minutes before I could there. Or that I no longer sleep at night. You need me to do something, of course I will!
From my church
“We need you to help with the Young Women’s program every Wednesday night from 6:30-9:00.” Me: “Sure. I hardly have time to pee but I’ll fit that right in—with a smile on my face.”
I could go on and on but you get my drift. I said yes to everyone and guess who suffered most? Me. I felt the brunt of that awful word in full force. Overwhelmed, stressed out, unhappy, living a life I hated.
When I got sick, I started saying NO often. And guess what? The Earth didn’t fall off its axis. Here are some examples of how that worked.
From my now ex-husband
“Get your ass home or I will cancel your health insurance.” Me: “No.”
“Accept this settlement offer or I’ll cut the children out of my life.” Me: “No, I don’t negotiate with terrorists.”
From my church
“We need you to help clean the chapel on Saturday.” Me: “No, I’m not able to.” (Look at that– I don’t need to provide an excuse!)
From my daughter
“Can you bring me lunch today?” Me: “I’m sick. No.”
From my daughter’s school
“Can you help every Thursday with book exchange? It’ll take about two hours.” Me: “Sorry, that’s my yoga time.” (My health is number one priority.)
And here’s the kicker—I don’t give reasons or excuses and I can’t find guilt anywhere. It’s great to help others, don’t get me wrong. Volunteering is important. But, at least, my needs (and wants) matter. A lot.
Dang, that No word is fabulous.