Saying “No” Without the Guilt

What do you say when people ask how you are?  Do you say, “Oh good, but busy”?

This has become a common response. Some of us wear this answer like a badge of honor. Are we searching for sympathy? After all, the saying goes, “misery loves company.”  Are we looking for a quick escape so we don’t have to talk too long? Justifying our importance, making sure others know we are significant?

For me, it was creating a quick escape. If the person I was talking with had an idea of how busy I was they wouldn’t take up my time. It also justified my purpose in life. If I was busy, surely, I was relevant.

When I had one child and a full-time job I thought I was the busiest person on earth. Why didn’t others see that and understand why I was late or couldn’t take on another project?

The funny thing is, my perception of my busy life didn’t change through child two, three or four. Despite tripling my responsibility, I was no busier. Whatever we think of ourselves and our lives is our reality and we create it.

Everything I was doing was necessary (or so I thought). I also knew I was not a person who enjoyed being busy. I took a hard look at how I was spending my time and made deliberate decisions. I let two of my children who hated piano quit. I closed my virtual office at 5:00PM instead of paying only half attention to what I was doing right through 7:0PM. I began saying no to jobs I just didn’t want to do. I stopped being the first to respond to pleas for volunteers.

I also did a little research and realized I was not alone and there are societal consequences.

A study conducted by Katharine O’Brien, a postdoctoral research associate at the Baylor School of Medicine sought to learn why women are more likely to say “yes” than “no” to requests than males. The results revealed that social norms play a major role. “Women typically are regarded as nurturers and helpers, so saying ‘no’ runs against the grain of what might be expected of them,” O’Brien explained. Women who turn down requests experienced worse performance evaluations and fewer recommendations for promotions, and were considered less likable when they did not behave communally, O’Brien said. “As might be expected, women who said “yes” to requests were more valued and regarded as ‘team players,’” she added. “Women feel a stronger sense of guilt when they say ‘no’ and feel bad when they do.”

What we do does not define who we are. We are nurturers and sometimes help others at the expense of ourselves. Something has to give. We are fighting an uphill battle but can’t give up. If my Mother-in-law doesn’t get her birthday card, the responsibility falls on me. If I show up to a party empty handed I get raised eyebrows. The same rules do not apply to my husband, and I have to be okay with that and know that I am doing the best I can.

There are many things in our lives we have no choice about. Look carefully at the things you do and be deliberate about what you say “yes” and “no” to. Let go of feeling inadequate and what others think. Support the women in our lives. We have to look out for ourselves and each other.

– Melissa

To read the full article by Clif Boutelle, click here.