Deciding when to say yes and when to say no
“I’m just a girl who can’t say no!” goes the song from the old musical, Oklahoma.
That was me for many years. I could be counted on to say yes to just about any request that would help someone – and do it with a smile on my face. Even when I knew I wasn’t honoring my personal limits.
- Work from home after a 10 hour day? Routinely.
- Run the entire fundraising gala? On it.
- Agree to an unreasonable deadline? Been there.
- Cancel social plans to do more work? Yup.
- Regularly deliver project extras at no charge? Done that, too.
Somehow, I didn’t seem to have the vocabulary or, if I’m honest, the courage to say no. I said yes even when I knew it would mean saying no to getting enough sleep, finding time for exercise and having the energy to really be present for my family and friends.
It took years and some hard lessons (being exhausted, stressed out, out of shape and unhappy) before I finally started setting and keeping healthy boundaries.
Now I say no when a request or behavior doesn’t align with my values. And when it would prevent me from saying yes to myself, the person I want to be and the life I choose to live.
When it comes to saying yes, I ask myself:
- Does it feel energizing and exciting?
- Will it lead to growth even if it scares me?
- Years from now, will I regret not saying yes?
There’s a rule-of-thumb in improv that encourages a performer to agree to the basic storyline another character sets-up. By giving the response, “Yes, and…..” possibilities are expanded and the plot line can take fascinating twists and turns.
Here’s a challenge: try saying “Yes, and….” the next time you’re hesitating to go after something you want because butterflies start swirling in your stomach or whispers of self-doubt pop into your mind.
Being brave enough to try, no matter what the outcome, can be a game-changer.