The Power of No

By Shani Petroff

Just have one cookie, I made them special! One won’t hurt. Can you do me a little favor? You’re so great on that committee, can you participate in another one, too? Can you just meet with me for 15 minutes so I can pick your brain? Read this and tell me what you think. Please? Can you cover for me? You have got to come this party, it’s amazing. You don’t want dessert!? What if we split it?

Sometimes I just want to scream NO! But instead, I often find myself saying yes. However, recently, I’ve discovered there’s a power in no — that instead of constantly putting others first, that I need to make myself a priority. If I’m always doing what everyone else needs and wants, I’m missing out on what I need and want.

When I forget this, I think back to Thanksgiving more than 15 years ago. It’s a time I really wish I’d said no. But I didn’t. I was waiting tables at a restaurant. They wanted me to work on the holiday. I didn’t want to, but I didn’t want to risk making waves or losing the job (even though it wasn’t one that I loved, and there were other restaurants hiring), so I said yes. I didn’t go home. I stayed in New York. That was the last Thanksgiving before my father died, and I didn’t get to spend it with him, because I was afraid to say no.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Over the years, that story has helped me prioritize. And recently it’s been a reminder that I have control over what I choose to do. So now before I say yes to anything, I’m asking myself these questions:

Do I want to do it? Is this something that I’m going to enjoy and that I will feel good about having done afterward?

Should I do it? Okay, let’s face it, I’m not going to want to do everything I should be doing — but that doesn’t mean it gets an automatic no. If the only reason I don’t want to attend a party is because I’m feeling self-conscious, I need to power through and go. Same thing with the gym. I can probably count on my fingers the number of times I’ve “wanted” to exercise. But it’s something that I feel good about afterward and that benefits me, so it should warrant a yes. In fact, it’s one of those things I want to make sure I have time to do, but because I’m saying yes to other, less important things, it often gets pushed aside.

Do I have the time and how important is it? I like helping others, and when someone I know, or an acquaintance or even a stranger reaches out, I try to assist when I can. But I’m one person, and there’s only so many hours in the day. There are times with my work schedule and commitments, I barely have time to talk to those closest to me, so when I say yes to whatever comes up, I wind up missing out on other things that I really want to do.

For instance, a guy I went on one — that’s right one — date with years ago reached out to me on Facebook out of the blue. He wanted advice about his book idea. I didn’t want to be rude, so I answered. I wound up spending an hour (an hour I could have been at the gym — but didn’t have time for that day) answering his questions over messenger. When he asked if he could meet to pick my brain some more, I almost got guilted into it. But then I realized — why? I don’t owe him anything, and my time is valuable. I said no. And when he asked me to read a few pages he wrote, I said no again, that I didn’t have the time, and pointed him to people who do critiques (and charge for it) for a living. It felt good. I only wished I had done it earlier.

Time is precious. We must pick and choose where we devote it. And sometimes, I’m all for making the time — even if it’s something that may be inconvenient. If my best friends or my family needed me, I’d drop everything and go. They’d do it for me too. We’re important to each other. And emergencies don’t care about schedules or time issues. But I’m not going to drop everything for everybody under the sun. I’ve come to realize it’s more than okay to just say no. My time matters.

Is it worth it? My willpower around junk food isn’t always the greatest, but I’m trying. It gets hard when someone tries to push sweets on me. But I know if I take something, it should be because I want it, not because I’m worried I’m going to insult someone by turning down their edible creation. If that person truly cares about me, he/she will understand that I don’t want it. 

I don’t want regrets. There are many amazing things to say yes to. But there are also so many things to say no to as well. The Weight Watchers program is teaching me discipline with my eating, but it’s time to apply that to all aspects of my life. I know who and what are important to me, and I need to make sure I have time to appreciate them. If that means having to say no to other things, then that’s a power I will have to possess.

We only have one life, let’s make the best one that we possibly can!

When do you find it important to say no? You can find me on Connect @shani!

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