I had a drink with an old friend last week and we had a great conversation about how other's opinions of our appearance, our lifestyle, our choices, etc dictate how we live our life. We both agreed that we want to work on letting go of this idea that we should fit into a certain mold or image of who we should be and just be ourselves instead. It's not always easy to do so, but ultimately, it would make us the happiest.
This got me to thinking about how much of my life I've spent trying to please other people. I have always had a difficult time saying no to anyone, whether it be professionally or personally. Want me to take on another responsibility at work even though I'm already juggling too much? Sure, no problem. I don't want to disappoint anyone or lead them to believe I'm incapable. You want to get together even though I already have other plans? Of course. I don't want a friend to think I'd prefer to do something else instead. You need a favor or help with something even though I was really looking forward to enjoying some free time? I'll be right there, even though I am aware the only time certain people reach out to me is when he or she needs something.
I have done this over and over for many years. Some people will say it's because I'm a nice person. I like to think that's true, however, there is a much deeper issue at the root of the problem.
Why is it so hard to say no to someone? Why do we feel the need to explain ourselves or rationalize doing things we want to do?
Personally, I think all of this is driven by the desire to please those around us in an effort to fit in and/or be liked. We all desire acceptance to some degree. We want to be accepted as good children or good parents. We want to be accepted as a respected professional. We want to be accepted and appreciated by those we care about most. This acceptance helps give us a sense of ourselves.
Giving in to others has become part of my identity over the years. I've been taken advantage of many times because of it, but I've also been a helping hand to many people in my life during a time of need.
I've since realized the importance of making your own happiness a priority in life and finding a balance with how much of that happiness you are willing to sacrifice. I felt guilty at first and still battle with guilt at times when I am faced with saying no to someone. I worried that the people that have known me as the "dependable one who's always there when you need her," would think I was now being selfish. I questioned what I could offer others if I wasn't constantly giving in to them. It sounds pathetic putting it into words, but I think more of us are driven by this feeling than would care to admit.
So how do we get into the habit of being comfortable saying no?
Try taking a moment when someone asks you a question before immediately saying yes. Take a deep breath and give yourself some space to pause and think about how you feel. Sometimes we get so used to saying yes that it almost becomes a reflex or automatic response and then the weight of the decision hits us later.
In those little pauses, I started asking myself how much guilt I would feel by saying no. Is this guilt something the person is causing or am I self inflicting it? Does the anxiety or anything else I will experience by saying yes carry more weight than the disappointment or guilt I will feel by saying no? What am I willing to tolerate more?
I began to say no to little things and realized that I didn't let people down as much as I thought I would. If I didn't want to take something on because my plate was already too full, there wasn't a huge fallout like I thought there would be. If a friend asked me to do something and I said no because I needed alone time, the friend respected my honesty and understood. Sometimes people aren't so understanding. They try to add to the guilt or manipulate feelings and situations to get what they want. In those situations, I try to remind myself that the only person that has the power to make me feel bad about something is myself. One of the greatest lessons I've learned this past year is that I am in control of my feelings and what I give power to. I've learned to give power to emotions that help me grow and not the ones that hold me back.
It's not always easy. Old habits are hard to break. My first instinct is still to please, but I'm learning to retrain that instinct to please myself first. My cousin Neil has coined the phrase "good selfish" (you can read more about it at www.goodselfish.com), which at the most basic level says that the "more you build yourself up, the more you will have to share with those you love." It makes perfect sense when you think about it.
Since I've started implementing this new school of thought into my life, I've become more productive because it has helped me focus on what's important and prioritize my commitments. It has helped me value my time so much more. I used to constantly look at the clock as passing time, always looking ahead at what's to come next. Now I spend my time doing things I enjoy and make each moment count. Learning to say no has helped me grow as a person because it's helped me focus on what's important to me and how I can improve myself and my every day life. I've also learned to value the good relationships in my life and recognize the ones I can do without. Not all friendships and relationships are good ones. Some of them drain you and it's not your responsibility to keep them alive if they are doing more harm to you than good. Learn to recognize the difference.
Mostly, I've learned to be assertive while being respectful and I've earned a lot of respect in return. I've learned to value myself and I believe others value me more now than they ever did. I've learned to build on the relationships that have good foundations and let go of the ones built only on what I could do for them. In doing so, I'm learning to let go of the idea of trying to please everyone around me and getting caught up in acceptance from others. I've learned to accept myself and by doing so, have gained the acceptance and appreciation that I had been in search of all along.