Saying No

swarm1
Credit: flickr / sillydog

I’m terrible at this. It’s my biggest weakness, but also – the source of so many experiences and opportunities. So I can’t embrace saying no fully for fear of missing out. But certain things lately have made me think that I need to say no more.

Like, crossing campus on a hectic day when I have tons of stuff going on for a meeting – which the other person did not show up to. The meeting, get this, was one I didn’t think was worth having anyway.

Or, being left off the mailing list for an event with my friends that I’d tentatively scheduled, only to get caught off guard when I’m already 10 minutes late, putting my dinner in the oven and wearing pj’s. The following hour consisted of me getting lost downtown, having a panic attack trying to park, and getting upset when someone else has no problem saying “no”, and even hanging up on me.

Penelope Trunk writes a lot about making yourself likable. An easy way (I think) to make people like you is to say yes to requests. Cate, can you teach this ski lesson? Sure (even though I’ve taught several hours straight and haven’t had lunch). Cate, can you review this and write some test cases? Sure (even though I just found another conference and have about a week to write another paper). Cate, can we get together for coffee? Sure (even though that time is not great for me). Cate, can we meet to discuss this? Sure (even though I don’t think there’s much point). Cate, can you make this workshop? Sure (even though what you’re paying me does not offset the international tuition that I’m wasting by not studying).

If any of the people who’ve made these requests find this post, they may like me less. But here’s the thing – I may be coming across as resentful but I don’t mean to, because I’m not. What I’m trying to get across, is that there’s always a reason not to do things that someone else asks you to do. But often it’s worth it. Take ski instructing, I’ve said yes to basically everything that comes my way, and carried around protein shakes because they always need people at lunch and this way I’m available. So last Sunday, I turn up to see what I’ve had booked and the guy in charge grabs me and takes me to cover for a race coach. And yes, I was thrown off and without ski poles (not really that necessary when teaching 4-year-olds) but after a rocky start featuring a fall off the lift (child) a wrenched shoulder (mine, trying to catch aforementioned child), a fall, a suspected head injury, and the ski patrol (not me for once!) it was awesome.

Every day, I come across things that I would like to say “yes” to, but I don’t. These are the things where I don’t have to respond, so I just don’t. And the opportunity flows by, but it’s okay. Because I have tons of opportunities I’m taking advantage of, and I know that when I have more time I’ll be able to find, or make, more opportunities. I think this is part of learning to say yes slowly.

Where I struggle, is when a response is requested. And I know I need to draw a line – between those requests that are opportunities, or easy to fulfill, or worthwhile… and the things that are just people guilting me, or taking advantage. Because this is what happened with the passive aggressive – she made request after request after request, sometimes explicit, mostly implicit, and eventually I cracked because it was too much, too unbalanced. My giving wasn’t reciprocated at all – and wasn’t appreciated either. Why bother? It just made me miserable. And that “no” was liberating! People have tried to wear me down on it, but they haven’t. I can reason as to why – frankly it scares me when someone thinks unhappiness frees them from any standards of reasonable behavior (though, of course, they do not apply this to other people – no-one suffers the way they do). But ultimately, I sigh and say I just don’t have the time or the inclination. End of discussion.

So perhaps my problem with trying to be likable, is that there are lots of other people who don’t try to be likable. So in the situation with my friends, they probably don’t understand why I didn’t just say no because I found out too late what was happening. And I don’t understand why they don’t realize that I was trying to be nice, and not let people down, and why don’t they have that motivating them when I’m upset. I drove 10 minutes (well 20, but I got lost), they wouldn’t walk 20 metres.

And that’s okay, because we’re all motivated by different things. I’m no longer asking the question, “why wouldn’t they walk 20 metres?” and instead I’m asking myself why I left the apartment in the first place. I didn’t want to. I just felt obligated. And I didn’t have to be – that’s all in my head.

Saying no. I need to do this more. I need to ask myself – do I want to? Do I have to? Why do I feel I have to? Is that a good reason?

Or:

 boolean sayYes(Event e)
    if (doIWantTo(e)) {
        return true;
    }
    if (doIHaveTo(e)) {
        Reason r = whyDoIHaveTo(e);
        if (isGoodReason(r)) {
            return true;
        }
        return false;
    }
    return false;
 }

(I bet robots don’t have these kind of problems)

9 thoughts on “Saying No

  1. What I do not understand here is, according to you,you had good reason to say no, and be angry about different situations mentioned here, but your tone is of a semi-guilt feeling. So you are not sure you are in the right: by doing what you did, or by always saying yes; or by wanting to be likable?

  2. I was hopping mad about both of them, but some time has passed now so I'm no longer as angry. I hope it's not so much guilt as much as just, why am I *always* putting myself out for other people, who don't reciprocate? I want to be nice, and yes – I wanted to be liked – but sometimes I should just not bother.

  3. Well, perhaps the negative feelings come from the moment you realize you wasted your time and energy and… you're standing there and know you're not getting those back! See this [tferriss post](http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2010/02/25/rolf-potts-vagabonding-travel/) – wherein it is argued that time is all you really own, in the end. I don't fully agree with that view, but it's still an inspiring conversation to have, no matter which side of that question you're on.

    I'll switch to the personal – These last few months are full of first times saying 'no' to social outings for me… it's quite unprecedented, and in the end I seem to have turned down some of the most high-value meetings I could have (darn) and gone to others that were more convenient. Need. Better. Organizing.

  4. Yeah that's true, the less time feel I have available the more this kind of thing is a problem for me.

    One thing I do, is check the weeks calendar on Beditings and schedule my week in advance and then work other (flexible) things like hanging out with friends etc around the fixed time things.

  5. Yeah that's true, the less time feel I have available the more this kind of thing is a problem for me.

    One thing I do, is check the weeks calendar on Beditings and schedule my week in advance and then work other (flexible) things like hanging out with friends etc around the fixed time things.

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