I don’t know you, but I know you say yes more than you want to. You go out, agree to tasks, grant favors and spend money that you’d rather not because you feel obligated – to someone else or to some idea of how you’re “supposed” to live your life.
Plus, you feel guilty about saying no. Or you’re so stricken by the fear of missing out on something fun that you pack your calendar and drain your bank account to the point that you’re too tired, frazzled and broke to enjoy it anyway. Maybe it’s all of the above.
I did this for 30-plus years, and all I got out of being a pathological yes-sayer was a semi-permanent tension headache and a Xanax prescription.
These days, I say no far more often than I say yes. As a result, I’m less busy, less crazed and more likely to succeed at and take pleasure in the commitments I do make. It’s a vast improvement, and it was borne out of utter desperation.
After pushing my time, energy and bank balance to the limit for decades, I was so overbooked, overwhelmed and overdrawn that I knew something had to give. I felt just as anxious, fearful and guilty about saying no as I always had but, as mentioned, I was desperate, so I took the leap.
Do you know what happened? Absolutely nothing.
I’ve spent the past several years politely declining invitations that I once thought of as absolutely necessary, and nobody has batted so much as a disapproving eyelash in my direction. I’ve said, “I’m sorry I can’t be of more help,” in response to favors I didn’t have the time or wherewithal to grant, and people have responded, “No worries!” And I’ve backed away from perceived obligations that turned out to have been optional all along, with nary a peep from the peanut gallery. Far from being penalized for opting out, I learned that other people don’t care nearly as much about my life decisions as I thought they would.
And guess what? They probably don’t care about yours, either.
If you’re having trouble wrapping your own people-pleasing brain around that notion, think about it this way: do you punish, banish or admonish folks who say a polite no to requests or invitations issued by you? Or are you respectful of their boundaries and decisions? Right, I thought so.
Life is too short to spend it passive-aggressively reading between the lines of a simple “I can’t make it” or “I don’t have time” or “I can’t afford that right now.” Most of us know these feelings well – which is why, even if we’re slightly miffed when someone turns us down, we usually just accept it and go on with our lives.
The fact is that very few people, if any, are going to want your head on
a spike because you said no. And there’s not much you can do about those
people anyway, except studiously avoid them and their spikes.
Trust me when I say: your real problem is a self-inflicted one. Most of what’s driving you towards those unwanted or ill-advised yeses is what you think other people might think about your decision to turn down a job offer, refuse a free sample or stay in when everyone else is going out. In reality? Most of them don’t give two hoots.
It took me the better part of three decades and some rigorous fieldwork to come to this conclusion. If I were you, I wouldn’t wait a moment longer to test my findings.
The next time you’re faced with a request, invitation or proposition that you can’t, shouldn’t or don’t want to say yes to, remember that nobody cares as much about your decision as you do. Nobody is as affected by it as you are. And nobody but you can release you from the sense of obligation, guilt and FOMO that is pushing you to say yes when you really want to say no.
If you wouldn’t punish someone else for saying it, why punish yourself? Just set that little word free and see what happens. I’m guessing nothing, with a small chance of spikes – and in my experience, that’s a leap worth taking.
Originally published in Red Magazine