If 2016 was Kylie Jenner’s year of realizing stuff, 2017 was Ana Steinberg’s year of saying no.
No has got to be the hardest word for me to say. I think I just have interiorized years of education in which girls have to be nice and agreeable. Then years fearing coming off as mean, bitchy, or rude in a society in which women were expected to be nothing short of pleasant. Plus the shame in being selfish: we keep getting taught over and over to put others before us. Add that to a hefty dose of guilt, strongly tied to my narcissism. I really did feel like every time I said no to someone, or denied anyone of something, I might as well be robbing them of their reason to be. And for the cherry on top there’s a whole ideology of always saying yes, and making sure you don’t miss any opportunities. It’s exhausting.
No comes in many shapes. It’s not always directly saying no. It might mean knowing when to walk out of a situation, when to have your value asserted, when to demand more, when to create boundaries, when to stop, when to say yes but…, and so on.
Here, a few simple examples of things that have happened because of my inability of saying no:
Watching The Exorcism of Emily Rose (WHY THOUGH?!!! Roughly 12 years of trauma and counting)
Working a job that slyly went from paying $15 to $9 an hour (Too embarrassed to call them out on it)
Debt and overspending (Because how could I say no to someone else’s joy)
Sleeping with my phone volume always on (What if any of my 18 friends going through a break up needs me?)
Allowing a coworker to get away with plagiarizing my work and taking credit for it (Too scared to confront her about it)
Lending money and never asking for it back (Am I allowed to?)
Paying for stuff at work out of pocket and not getting reimbursed (Still waiting)
Living with an emotionally abusive roommate (She was probably just going through a rough time. Right?)
Working extra hours for free (Colleagues will definitely take notice and appreciate it)
Not correcting ignorant (and kind of inconsiderate) teachers when they purposefully mispronounced my last name and joked about it being impossible to read (um... Steinberg's not that hard. Turns out in Canada I never had this problem again)
I have been no-challenged my entire life. I’m grateful I had such a yes/giving personality for many years because it did in fact present me with many opportunities and it created the foundations for many of my most cherished relationships. I did crazy amounts of volunteering, I was involved in a million things, I was always ready and available for whenever I was needed. Regardless of what I needed. Particularly, time was a resource I wasted embarrassingly when I could’ve (and should’ve) really invested it on myself.
I’d never realized I was such a shitty no-er until my therapist (blessss her!) brought it up in a session a few years ago. It was the sort of thing that I accepted (because how could I say no?) but resisted. A kind of “Yeah, I guess it’s hard to say no. But I couldn’t possibly have said no because ______.” Fill in the blank with any sort of catastrophic justification I was giving myself to never end this whirlwind of yeses. “It would’ve been rude,” “I don’t really mind that much,” “It was quicker to just do it myself,” “It would’ve seemed so selfish,” “It would’ve been too embarrassing” et fucking cetera.
My therapist, ever wise, kept bringing it up over and over for about two years. Each time I realized more and more it was quite a repetitive problem. A problem that started affecting my health. She pointed out how I kept losing my voice. Some have interpreted it as an issue in being able to say what I really wanted to: no - in it’s many glorious variations. But in addition to a lovely interpretation, medically speaking, I kept prioritizing others over rest. As I kept getting sicker there was no time to stop and properly recover. Something had to be done. This was late 2014.
Around this time I had a Eat, Pray, Love sorta thing I did in Italy. There I met with a friend, and one of my favourite lines that came up during our trip was grazie mille, ma non mi interessa. It would translate to thank you, not interested. It started off as a simple response to harassy sales people, but it became quite the mantra for me. In many situations I began saying, "thank you, but no thank you - thanks so much, but I'm not interested." It felt incredibly liberating.
More and more I checked myself in every situation. Noting my attitudes and responses. Almost day dreaming about scenarios in which I would be strong enough to say no. And it started. A little bit here, a little bit there. Nothing major. Definitely not enough. It was almost as learning to speak a new language. Saying no was a powerful weapon I needed to learn how to use, and at the same time understanding that by using it, I would leave behind no casualties. I was entitled to my no, and no one would die from it.
As 2017 approached, it started. Several scenarios ended up forcing me to say no. Even to situations I wasn’t ready to. Yet, I had to do it. And all the years of discussing and practicing came into effect, as I had to deliver my first few massive nos. Some required me walking out of situations to prioritize my family’s needs, some required me to focus on my finances, some required me to think about my comfort and energy first. With every muscle in my body I had to have uncomfortable conversations, left and right. “No, I can’t be a part of this,” “No, I won’t be able to continue here,” “I quit,” “I’m leaving,” “I need something different,” “I won’t take care of you,” “My worth’s not appreciated here,” “This friendship is draining,” and on and on I went.
I must say that after the first few horrid conversations, I did realize that in fact, the world keeps spinning. I’ve had a much better year than I would’ve ever had, had I not said no when I did. The few people that have happened to get offended along the way weren’t that great to keep in my life to begin with. When saying no, I shed toxic friendships that required immediate attention at all time, mediocre relationships, and thankless jobs.
I’ve had big, uncomfortable talks with best friends, with family members, with colleagues, with partners. And turns out, those that understand that you can’t always say yes to them, understand you’re not just a two-dimensional supporting character in their novel. You too have a life, you too are busy, you too need to be on top of your finances, you too have needs. People that love you will love you regardless of your boundaries, and that was an important lesson for me to learn.
The reality is that when you say no, you’re actually saying yes to the things that really matter. Each yes becomes stronger when it’s not surrounded by a million yeses. Each task becomes more meaningful when it’s not part of a gazillion thing’s you’re just checking off. The time you spend with people is more selective, and more fulfilling. The time you spend at work is more meticulous, and more productive.
To be quite honest, saying no has become almost a little addictive. I’ve tried the sweet, sweet joy of not always being exhausted, angry and underappreciated for doing too much at all times. I gotta say, I love it. Couldn’t recommend trying it enough. I feel as though speaking of no comes off a bit bitter, but it just couldn’t make me more joyful.
Here are some fantastic samples for you to try at home:
When someone is asking you to do an errand for them:
If you’re about to go to bed and someone wants to have a long phone call:
To dudes catcalling:
If someone expects you to move your schedule around for them:
To someone less than charming on a date:
When someone wants to slack and rely on you for getting the work done:
When you’re expected to be pleasant to people you’ve actively cut out of your life:
When annoying AF texts start coming in (and my personal fave):
Have yourself a healthy dose of NO and a happy new year!