September 3, 2013

Learning to Say ‘No’ Changed My Life. ~ Lindsay Mack

My name is Lindsay and I am an addict: to the word “yes.”

Anything anyone wanted, anything they asked, I volunteered. If I thought I could please them, I said yes. I said yes without any forethought, or regard for what I actually wanted. Did it matter if I wanted to politely decline? For most of my life, the answer was a big ole’ “nope.”

I ignored my instincts and continued through life with my hand perpetually raised to the world.  I was very proud of this can-do attitude, but eventually I realized that my chronic yes-ing was opening me up to stress, a lot more than I was previously aware.

Because my immediate response was always yes, I constantly ran into time management issues at work, often underestimating the time I had available.  I was always freaking out about something, always over worked, and always under the thumb of a crazy deadline.

This also extended into my personal life; I would say yes to seeing a friend for coffee before I even checked my planner. Nine times out of ten, I would find that I accidentally double booked myself, and quickly earned the reputation among my friends as a bit of a flake—a really sobering realization, although I was and am grateful to them for their honesty.  And, of course, because of my desire to please, I was constantly taken advantage of by my peers and colleagues.

Even though I was saying yes all of the time, I felt really stretched, stressed and burned out.

It didn’t feel great to be a yes-woman.

After many years of this pattern, I began to see how saying yes was a part of a much deeper, more painful part of my thinking.  I began to see that saying yes without thinking was feeding a very real part of me that believed that I would only find true acceptance, friendship and love if I offered myself to anyone who needed me at any given time.

I also saw a lot of fear in my constant yes-ing, an inherited trait from a caretaker with a ferocious temper. As a child, I would compulsively try to avoid and divert these eruptions by volunteering for whatever frustrating task lay ahead for them. I said yes, yes, yes all of the time, to stay safe, to feel loved. This pattern had smoothly spilled over into my adult life.

I hadn’t realized that I was actually deeply uncomfortable with saying no. I was uncomfortable with not sitting up and volunteering because I wasn’t in touch with my own wants and needs. I hated disappointing, or letting people down.

But when I began to really open my eyes, I saw that I was already disappointing those who I’d promised to help, because I wasn’t doing so from a genuine place. I also saw that so much agreeing was an echo from my past; I now was surrounded by people in my life who genuinely loved me and were kind and gentle.

I made a vow to befriend the word “no,” and I’ve never looked back.

Now, unless my heart leaps to the task, I remain silent when asked to volunteer. When a friend asks when I’m free, I remember to pause and check my date book instead of impulsively saying yes. When asked for favors that I feel uncomfortable granting, I compassionately decline.

Each time I do, I am amazed by the feeling of freedom and empowerment I feel. Its a high.

Each time I say no to something that does not align with my true self, I honor who I truly am. My old conditioning washes away; I open myself up to other projects and events that really get me going. I am seen as a ‘reformed flaky chick’; I make my meetings on time, and I revel in responsibility and accountability.

I find that my work is richer, deeper, and more vibrant than it ever was before. I find that when I only say yes to what I truly want to do, things flow and click. Saying ‘no’ more than yes changed my life, career, and relationship for the better. It helped me blossom into the confident, capable woman I am today.

Are you a reformed yes man or woman? How has the word “no” changed your life?



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Assistant Ed: Katharine Spano/Ed: Bryonie Wise



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