The Power of Saying "No"
All my life I have watched other people use this strange superpower that I just didn't possess.
I remember an instance when I was ten years old and had friends who wanted to go to the mall. But my family was going to lunch. It was such a dilemma that I cried! I literally stood there crying, unable to choose between the two. I couldn't bear the thought of having to tell either my friends or my family “no.” I didn't want to disappoint anyone.
Fast forward to my junior year of college: I was working three jobs, two of which I was commuting an hour for three times a week for minimal pay. I was exhausted.
But I saw myself as a Yes Girl. No matter what anyone needed, I was the person to call. Do you need someone to help you finish writing a paper at 3:00 am? Do you not want to clean up your vomit off the bedroom carpet? Do you need someone to cover a class for you 30 minutes before it starts because you're hungover? If so, I was your girl! (Yes, all of those are real life examples.)
What it all boiled down to for me was I had this overwhelming and crippling fear of letting people down. I spent 22 years of my life living this way. It cost me a fun college experience. It cost me friendships. It cost me my sense of self-worth. It made me a doormat when in reality I am someone who can take care of herself.
Only until two years ago did I finally realize that sometimes saying “no” is exactly what I needed to do. It doesn’t make me a bad person. It doesn't make me unapproachable. Finally toward the end of my senior year of college I came to terms with the reality that I only had one life to live. I could choose to say “yes” to the things that I wanted to say “yes” to, and I learned that sometimes saying “no” could be beneficial for me.
In May of 2014, the month of graduation [GO DAWGS!], it looked like I had everything going for me.
My “yes” mentality had landed me my dream guy. I didn't normally go out with guys that I hadn't already known, but I gave him a shot. For over two years, we tried to maneuver this college relationship. Somewhere in those two years we were no longer coasting through life together; it was a struggle, a daily struggle. But I continued to say “yes” to our relationship and consequently “yes” to a relationship I didn't belong in.
I also was graduating with a degree in English, something I was told I should major in because I was always reading and writing. Since I was told to, I continued on that path and got my degree. (I did end up really loving my professors and the programs I was involved in.)
In May, I had just had my second interview to become a teacher at a school in my hometown. I knew I would get the job. I was saying “yes.” Secure relationship. Secure job. Secure life. All because I said “yes.”
My future was bright. I was content, but not fully satisfied, not thriving. I knew I was settling. But this was smart. Dream guy? Great job? I said “yes” to all of these things despite the way I was feeling deep in my heart.
Fast forward a few weeks to the very last week of May. I somehow - I'm still not even sure - landed an audition for a professional theatre company in Birmingham, Alabama. If you have ever been around me for more than five minutes, theatre, singing, dancing, acting, Broadway or something along those lines will come up. That's where my heart truly lies: in performing.
So despite already having a teaching job, I auditioned and miraculously landed the role of Dorothy in their touring production of The Wizard of Oz. Of course I said “yes!” And this was a “yes” that I desperately wanted.
But wait... I was back in that same situation when I was ten years old except now the decision between my two choices was potentially life altering. I was once again torn between two things, not wanting to make the wrong choice, not wanting to let anyone down. This was a huge moment for me.
Right then and there I decided that I couldn't let myself down. The right thing for me was to take the job in Birmingham, and that's exactly what I did. It was honestly the most wonderful and rewarding thing I have ever done in my entire life. There were so many mental obstacles and making the phone call to the school to turn down the job was probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. But I was so proud of myself for finally saying “yes” to the right thing.
After my time in Birmingham, I received another crazy cool opportunity to move to New York and become a live-in nanny. I said “yes,” duh.
But when I arrived, I instantly knew that this was not for me. My “yes” turned into a “no.” Again, this was a majorly difficult move on my part. I had never let anyone down like this. But I knew had the strength inside of me to do what was right for me. I moved back home, [sarcastic yippeeeee] and let myself wallow for a few days.
By saying “no” - which is already so difficult for me - to the job in New York, I put myself in a position where I didn't want to be. But I stayed patient and persistent.
After my wallowing and lots of crying, I put on my big girl panties and started applying to anything and everything ... again, trying to say “yes” to everything. This lesson of finding the balance between saying “yes” and saying “no” is an ongoing lesson for me. The majority of the choices I've made in my life have been largely due to my fear of letting people down. The people-pleaser within me wants nothing to do with conflict and everything to do with smooth, positive moves in life.
After all this time, I have finally learned that it is my constant “yes” that creates the most conflict. This is how I get involved in things that I'm not truly passionate about. That is where I find myself settling the most.
In my post-grad year, I have learned that life is full of sacrifice. But it is also so important to be able to say “no” to things I have no business doing, to say “no” to things that I know are not right for me. I’ve learned that being able to say “no” - even when it is oh-so difficult - makes my “yes” so much more satisfying. I feel so much more confident in myself.
So now, a Kindergarten teacher at that very school that I turned down a year ago, I am on a path that I want to be on. I know this is where I am supposed to be. Though a year ago I was struggling to say “no” to a wrong relationship and say “no” to a job that I wasn’t quite ready for, this year I am ready to boldly give both a yes and a no in order to keep growing and keep learning.