For the first 31 years of my life I said yes. Yes to projects, yes to relationships, yes to degree after degree after degree, yes to clutter and knick knacks, yes to small talk, yes to abuse and violence and yes to taking on the suffering of others. I was raised by a yes person in a yes family and I never wanted to say no because of it. That desire to conform with something that I knew in every ounce of my being did not co-exist with who I am brought me nothing but people, relationships, and systems that took from me.
As I look around my little house now, I see very few reminders of those early 31 years. There are a couple small and cherished tokens from people who were woven in and out of my life that gave so much to me but for the most part all of the clutter, relationships, conversations, and most certainly the pieces of myself being given away daily are gone. I say no a lot now. Shockingly, it is still never comfortable. I always feel guilty or uncomfortable or shy or selfish but I have become accustomed to that being a part of my no.
Others who were encouraged to say no more often while growing up have explained to me that they do not feel such a strong and uncomfortable reaction when turning others down, disappointing others, and downright angering others. Although I am jealous and envious of their lack of discomfort with taking care of themselves, I also understand that being a yes person for 31 years taught me many important lessons and the discomfort associated with saying no is grist for my own mill as well. I learned about the kind of manager I do not want to be. I learned about the kind of partner I do not want to be. I learned about the kind of family member I do not want to be. Even more importantly, I learned about the kind of woman, mother, wife, leader, friend, and person I do want to be.
People have given me much feedback since the transition, and I take each morsel as a compliment, especially when I am in the process of saying no. When I am receiving feedback that reminds me, I didn't swallow something that wasn't mine, I didn't go behind someone's back and passively rip them apart, I didn't give a piece of myself that I didn't want to share, I protected myself and others are not always comfortable with this.
The most rewarding element of this journey has been finding a circle of people that actually love me for me not for what I do for them. I have a few friends now that love me, a team that believes in me, a husband that loves me, a house and two kitties. Those were what was left over when I started saying no to everyone. It was like the chaff rose to the surface, I don't have much left but what I have means the world. I can readily say no to any and all of those folks left behind and they will still show up for me, still love me, still support me, and still sometimes say no to me back.
Now, when I am asked to do something, after much training, I hear the answer no first in my head. Then I take a moment to evaluate, should I change the answer to yes, and the rule is that can only happen when I really want to. If the answer remains no, I immediately start preparing for the guilt and discomfort and then I grit my teeth and say no. It truly is a beautiful thing. Having a voice wih such a silencing upbringing and living in such a silencing world is the only way for me to live. No, I will never go back to always saying yes.