As children we’re taught to “Just Say No” to things that are bad for us, like drugs and alcohol. The message is reinforced as a means of helping us individualize ourselves in a way that’s positive for our own growth.
“Just say no.” What a powerful idea. But as I sat among 5,500 women this week at the Professional Business Women of California Conference in San Francisco, I realized the mantra should be top of mind for women who, for many reasons and/or variables, simply don’t understand how to take control of their own happiness, and unwittingly construe that with selfishness.
(Excuse my double negatives; there will be many here).
We face difficult saying no for many reasons, but we don’t even realize how much trouble we have saying no. At least I didn’t realize it until I heard it out loud at this conference, and felt it echoed among many women I can relate to – women who are professionals and worked hard to become that—but who also are wives and mothers, sisters, and daughters, friends, and peers.
I personally have trouble saying no to things because I like to please people. I enjoy being in a position to make someone’s day. Maybe I put together a kick-ass presentation for work that resonated with a superior and validated our strategy. Or perhaps my family or friends want me to make my famous chocolate chip cookies. It is hard for me to say no. I like to DELIGHT!
As a young woman in the professional world, I’m also trying to combat stereotypes of the millennial generation – that we don’t want to apply ourselves to work hard and achieve – that we want things handed to us without a proper input. I loathe this perception but can’t say I blame anyone. I went to college with these particular people who ruined it for us all. I know who they are. But I’m not one of them. I’ve identified this to be a common source of my inability to say no. I don’t want to be construed as a half-wit just trying to get by.
There were several great takeaways from the #PBWC Conference but these resonated with me greatly, and helped me feel empowered to substantiate my right to just say no, starting today.
- Perfection does not exist. You already know this, but take a moment to let the point really seep in. When you’re chasing something non-existent, your confidence steadily decreases and you become unhappy, noted breakout speaker Dr. Jaime Kulaga, life coach and Author. If it sounds ludicrous to chase a unicorn, why are you holding your own life to an equally nonexistent standard?
- Saying “no” is not a means to an end. Oftentimes we feel obliged to say yes because we fear that the person asking us needs us and if we don’t accommodate that need, we’re letting him or her down. What if we felt empowered to say no and followed up that response with other relevant resources? Dr. Jaime posed this question and frankly, knocked my socks off. What if I said no to taking on a big project I know I can’t realistically handle, but suggested that another, equally-capable colleague handle it? Or what if I truly acknowledged my personal exhaustion and indulged it by not making the damn cookies? I could, GASP, buy a dessert on the way out. Now we’re talking.
- Remember that no one ever died of shame. Say it out loud. Twice even. Talk about the things that make you feel vulnerable, suggested Dr. Kate Levinson, Author of “Emotional Currency.” The sheer thought of bringing a store bought dessert to someone’s house usually makes me cringe. “BUT I BAKE. IT’S WHAT I DO. PEOPLE KNOW I BAKE.” But the truth is that baking takes time and energy, two resources which are sometimes limited. And if I do have that “extra” hour, it might behoove me to sit and meditate to recharge rather than bust out the flour, sugar, and butter (as well as that damn heavy stand mixer).
There is a wealth of information out there to help women, as well as men, learn how to achieve a healthy, balanced life, and I’m grateful to the PBWC for putting together a great day full of content to support these ideas. As you head into your weekend, I hope you feel empowered to “Just say no” if that is what you need to do.
I wrote and published this post because I said that I would, and that meant saying “no” to spending an hour with my kid. And that’s okay!