Sometimes I say no just for the hell of it. Other times I say it because it’s my only answer. But whatever the reason, “No” has helped me form boundaries.
She stood in front on my desk, not saying anything. Just staring... I’d just told her, “No.” She asked me if I could do a simple, little task and without hesitation, I said, “No.” She confusingly replied, “Huh?” I restated nonchalantly, “Nope. I don’t want to.” And she stood there, staring at me while I stared at her. My answer wasn’t going to change. This is when I realized that I’ve said “yes” too many times if it takes my colleagues this long to comprehend a single, monosyllables word. No.
I used to be a “yes girl.” An “I’ll try” momma. A “Sure, no prob” chick. To everyone! As women we are often expected to say yes to anything and anyone. Yes to our husbands. Yes to our kids. Yes to our colleagues. But yes can be exhausting, overrated, and sometimes not in our best interest.
At work, people would ask me for favors, or to be on their committee, or to be present in a meeting. I would always say, “Sure, no problem.” Mostly because I genuinely did not mind. I took pleasure in helping people. But in helping others, I would inevitably have to put my own work aside. So I would assist my colleagues during my work hours and come to work early or stay later to complete my duties. At first, I would only need to come in 15 or 20 minutes early. But it soon became an hour. Yes, I would arrive at work 1 hour before I needed to just to get my work done and be available for my colleagues.
My family would ask me if I could run errands for them. Sometimes they would give me notice and sometimes I would have to make stops after a long workday with kiddos in the car. Nevertheless, I would say, “Yes, Ma’am,” mainly because I knew they needed me. It was exhausting.
Because I also needed me, too.
My husband would ask me to complete mundane tasks: Can you make a ClickList? Can you figure out why this bill is so high? Can you arrange for a babysitter? Can you do that thing I like? And of course, I would say, “Sure, honey.”
And of course the kids would ask me to do things all the time. I don’t know about your kids, but mine had a knack for waiting until I sat down and exhaled before asking me something. It’s like they wanted to make sure I was relaxed before revving me up again. Or they would wait until I’m in the restroom to try to have a full conversation through the door. (Keep in mind that they had to pass their father in order to get to me.)
I spent all of my day pouring into others and caring for their needs, and I neglected my responsibilities, my to-do list, and ultimately myself.
It was during one of my therapy sessions, Story of Your Life Counseling and Consulting, that she said, “You have boundary problems. Just say no. What’s the worst that’s gonna happen?” I looked at her dead in the eyes and said,
“Well, for starters...everything.”
Anyhow, she encouraged me to try it.
So I started saying no. I would say no to things that I didn’t have time for instead of trying to finagle it into my schedule. I would say no to things that were well within my ability to do, but I just didn’t want to do it. And sometimes Petty Patricia would say no just for shock factor. Randomly, to everyone. And when I said no, I DID NOT OFFER AN EXPLANATION. I allowed my NO to stand for itself.
At first, many people were shocked. Some stared at me in disbelief. Others would reframe their question. And there were a few brave souls who would ask, “Well, why not?” And to them I would calmly reply, “Because I said no. (Insert shrug.) I said what I said." (Walks away.) But slowly, people began to ask me to do tasks and respectfully wait for my reply, rather than assume I was going to say “yes” and be perturbed if I didn’t.
It felt good. You have no idea the amount of time I reclaimed!
Saying no as a woman isn’t very popular. And as a black woman, it is met with much more animosity. Many of my friends have been told, “She’s not a team player.” “She’s such a b.” “She has the nastiest attitude.” “Well don’t ask me to do anything for you.” “What her problem; I only wanted her to do one small thing.” All because of the word No.
But don’t let these things get to you. Those who truly respect and/or love you will also respect your boundaries. So, Just Say No.
-You don’t need to be accessible to everyone all the time.
-No means NO and stick with it.
-You don’t have to offer an explanation
-You cannot please everyone, but you sure can PLEASE YOURSELF!