When I was 16 I found a recipe in Cosmo for a Valentine’s Day dinner to “cook for my man.” Eager to impress my high school boyfriend, I planned an elaborate feast. I bought a red dress. I lit candles.
My parents, however, had planned a trip for that weekend. They told me I’d have to reschedule. But my dad—both accommodating and protective—said that he would stay home from the family trip so I could have my romantic dinner.
At 6pm, my date was supposed to arrive. At 5:55 I had lit the candles, smoothed my dress, poured the salad dressing. I sat at the dining room table and waited.
You know how this story goes.
I’ve talked about my high school beau on the blog before. Needless to say, he wasn’t a great guy.
But as long ago as this was, that feeling of waiting still churns my guts. Every flash of lights was his car. Every noise was him walking up the drive. Every ding was the phone with him on the other line, apologizing and telling me his mom needed something or his car had died.
At 9pm he showed up as if he’d done nothing wrong.
I hate waiting. I feel worthless. Like I’m a teenager at my dining room table waiting for no one as my lasagna cools and the candles melt.
I’m telling you this because I recently a Facebook post that filled me with rage.
Learning to Say No: It’s Not What You Think
A distant acquaintance posted a self-congratulatory note about how she bailed on all her commitments. Here’s a re-enacted version:
I’ve had enough! I looked at my calendar today and realized I’d overbooked myself. Again. I agreed to give a talk on Monday, had a deadline on Tuesday, am running a retreat on Wednesday and blah blah blah. I finally said ENOUGH! I called each and every one my commitments and cancelled. I feel so free! It’s finally time for me to start saying no to opportunities that don’t serve me. Off to take a bubble bath now!
What followed with a slew of comments like this:
You’re so brave!
Way to go. So proud of you!
Take back control girlfrennnn!
That must have been so hard!
Um. No.Just because you need to learn a lesson about overcommitting, doesn't give you permission to be… Click To Tweet
Just because you need to learn a lesson about overcommitting, doesn’t give you permission to be a flake.
Bailing isn’t brave.
Bailing is easy.
What’s hard is knowing you made a mistake and doing it anyway because you don’t want to make people feel bad.
I’m seeing this all the time—in my peers, on the internet and, regrettably, in myself.
I say yes too often. If someone invites me to an event after I’ve already scheduled my week I think, “Oh, that’s totally doable after I go to my doctor’s appointment, walk the dog and have those two Skype meetings. I’ll just do everything quickly.”
I worry if I learn to say no I’ll stop being invited to events. Or that people will think I’m a loser.
Saying no is hard.
Saying yes—then bailing—is easy.
We need to change our behavior
I hosted a little party a few months ago and half of my RSVPs just never showed up. After all day prepping and spending a good chunk of money on supplies, I figured those bailed simply didn’t like me.
Some texted with weak excuses (excuses I’ve definitely used before). Some didn’t even bother.
I don’t think it’s a generational thing either. I think it’s a right-now-thing.
More and more I’m seeing articles about how we have to learn to be selfish and “honor our truth.”
Trust me, I’m the first one to jump on the self-improvement bandwagon. I need a lesson in saying no so I can focus my energies not only on the things that matter (because most days everything matters), but on having enjoyable, stress-free days.
But these articles are confusing us.
So let me clear it up for everyone:
Owning the word “no” does not give you permission to be a flake.
When you flake, you’ve already made a commitment. You’ve said, “Yes, I’m interested in this. That sounds like fun and you can count on me.”
We don’t need to practice saying no.
We need to practice asking ourselves: Do I really want to do this? Do I have time? Does this light me up?
We need to practice taking a beat before we say yes.