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  • Writer's pictureLola Sofi'

The Art of Saying No



I have a confession.


And yes, it is a little embarrassing to admit. But for the sake of personal growth, I will put aside my ego and share with you the secret of my former shame. So here goes.


Once upon a time, I used to duck and dodge the Girl Scouts who were selling cookies in front of the grocery store.


Say what??? (Your head tilted with curiosity)


Yes…you heard correctly. There actually was a time when yours truly, Mrs. 50 is the new 50, would do everything within her power to avoid making eye contact with those precious little scout representatives, who day after day, would post up faithfully in front of our local grocery or convenience stores—securing both entrances, mind you—dawning their neatly pressed girl scout uniforms and armed with mint chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and my personal favorite, shortbread cookies.


As a matter of fact, I went to great lengths to avoid any possible encounters. For instance, I would often shop at extreme hours— I’m talking around 6:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.—basically, whenever it was too early or too late for the cookie sales to happen. I would even go as far as to blend into the crowd when entering or exiting a store; that way, I could get in and get out, pretty much unnoticed.


And on those rare occasions when I didn’t leave the house quite early enough or had to exit all by my lonesome, I somehow, inevitably would end up buying at least $30 worth of Snickerdoodles or some other delectable from the most adorable and persistent little scout.


So perhaps by now, you’re wondering what to attribute this unusually odd behavior, right?


For the longest time, I wondered this too. I mean, I considered myself a pretty reasonable person, not given to this type of avoidance behavior. Until one day when accompanied to the store by my no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is sister, I had to come face to face with this passive resistance.


We were in a hurry and planned to rush in the store for just a second, grab some necessities, and be on our way. But when we pulled up, my countenance dropped at the sight of seeing poster boards, easel dressings, and tons of cookies being off ramped onto a display table. I had missed my window for shopping.


Always the keen observer, my sister immediately noticed the change in my demeanor. “What’s wrong?” she asked.


“Nothing,” I said, knowing that my answer was the polar opposite of my true feelings. “I just don’t have anything to contribute to the scouts today.”


“Neither do I, but we’re not here for that anyway,” she said in her most nonchalant tone. “Come on.” And with that, we were out of the truck and headed towards the store.


Bracing myself for… I don’t know what, we approached the entrance, and right on cue, our eyes met those of a 4-foot high, bold and confident salesperson. “Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?”


As I dug through my purse frantically looking for spare change, my big sister, with equal confidence, compassion, and a smile, respectfully declined. “No thank you, Sweetie. But thanks for asking.”


“Okay, thank you,” the girl answered, and to my surprise, she quickly turned and set her sights on the next patron.


“How did you do that?” I whispered, still amazed that we weren’t carrying 20 boxes of shortbread cookies into the store.

“Do what?”

“You know, turn down the cookies?”

She scoffed. “Because I didn’t want any. Did you?”

“We’ll… no, but—“

“But what,” she inquired. “If you don’t want them, then why would you buy them?”


This was the $100,000 question; the question I had never bothered to ask myself until then.


“We’ll…because I might hurt their feelings if I say no.”


And there it was; the root of my problem.


The reason for my crazy avoidance? Simple. I was a person who had trouble saying no.


Not in all cases. For instance, with my children, I could say no without delay. As a single mom, I learned early that saying yes to everything was not only infeasible, but would be out of balance and not good for their wellbeing.


But in this case, I liked what the Scouts were doing. I admired their confidence and persistence, and I didn’t want to disappoint. Therefore, when I could, I bought a ton of cookies that I didn’t need. And when I couldn’t… I drove myself insane, sidestepping at every turn, in order to avoid saying no.


And although my example may seem a bit odd, maybe even a little comedic, the angst of saying “no” is no joking matter, pardon the pun.


“What’s helped with saying no to others is asking myself first if I’m saying yes out of guilt or fear. If so, then it’s a polite no.”– Neil Strauss

Time for a little introspection.


So, I sat myself down for an honest “deep dive” session in order to figure out why I was such a super star player on Team Yea, but typically a bench warmer on Team Nay.


After examining various instances and circumstances in my life when I should’ve said no, I wrote down a list of reasons, which I believe drew me towards doing just the opposite. Here’s what came to mind:

  • I want to say no, but I don’t know how to say it, so I end up getting talked into doing what I don’t want to do.

  • I don’t like to disappoint anyone.

  • I think I’m obligated.

  • I think too much about what people will say.

  • I think I can do it all and have difficulty choosing what’s important to me.

  • I try to please people (this one is particularly hard to swallow).

  • I put others before I put myself.

After I finished, I first thought, Yikes! What the heck is wrong with me?


But as I dug more into this, I realized I couldn’t be alone. Thankfully, I am blessed with an extraordinary circle of friends, a group of women, all near and dear to my heart, my wonderful sisters and sounding boards, who gladly said yes to helping me toss around the conundrum of “no.”


Why won’t I just say no?


There’s a lot to be said about saying yes. New growth, new opportunities, new people, places and things…all can easily be attributed to that first step of saying yes.


BUT… there’s also a lot to be said about saying no, which contrary to popular belief, is not always easily said nor done.


So, what is it about this two-letter word that ties the tongue of so many?


I decided to consult with a few of my closest confidants, those women of whom I can be emotionally “naked and not ashamed,” to see if they too, had similar issues.


And guess what?


They did. They ALL did!


All of my super wonderful, bad ass, the world is my oyster, unstoppable, extraordinarily beautiful inside and out girlfriends, whose confidence would put even Sasha Fierce to shame… have at one time or another struggled with saying no. Some still do.


I wasn’t the Lone Ranger, not by far. I was merely one in a chorus of individuals who have this common struggle. Many expressed difficulties with the reasons I listed earlier, most commonly, not wanting to disappoint, being unsure of how to say no without hurting someone’s feelings, prioritizing other’s needs before their own, and feeling obligated. Their level of honesty and transparency never ceases to amaze me.


Let’s take a look at the top reasons of which the ladies most identify.


Note: Rather than use their real names, I’ll be creative and use personality descriptors to protect their anonymity.


THE OBLIGATION


“Note to self: A request is not an obligation.”—Brian Schwartz, author

Meet Queen:  I would say yes and then kick myself…


“The struggle is real,” she said candidly. “Depending on the person, I always feel this sense of obligation, and I have to fight against it. Especially with my family—those grown children?” We laugh with mutual understanding. “I have to remind myself they’re adults now, and I’ve given them the tools to figure things out for themselves. It’s all part of becoming independent, and I’ve spent too many years codling them and keeping them in the ‘child’ mode. I would say yes—even to some stupid things—and then kick myself, because I knew it was something they could have either done on their own or figured out on their own. But I’m still growing and learning and changing myself. So now, when I feel it’s appropriate and led by God, I’ll say yes to a request without feeling bad about it.”


I could immediately identify with Queen’s struggle. That "sense of obligation" tugged harder on my heart strings with family than with others. For instance, if a colleague invited me to a “work thing,” I based my answer solely on if I really wanted to go, not out of obligation. But, with family? Not so much. My wanting to do something had very little to do with whether or not I agreed to the request, especially if I thought they depended on me for assistance. I felt obligated to help and I didn’t want them to fail or feel badly.

THE DILEMMA OF DISAPPOINTMENT


"You can be a good person with a kind heart and still say no"--Unknown

Meet Belle: Just not wanting to disappoint can still be a struggle...


Belle has one of the biggest hearts I know. She would give you the shirt off of her back if she knew it would help you or your cause. And while she is not a push-over, she too, wrestles with the art of saying no.


“While I’ve grown to be more true to myself, I have had moments of difficulty saying no, mostly out of obligation and just not being sure of how to say no without hurting someone's feelings. I feel most obligated to my family and I don't want to fail them; therefore, I will do things for them simply out of their need. Not wanting to disappoint them can really be a struggle for me. Case and point: I’ve given so much money to so many [of their] causes until one day, the hubby said, ‘Didn’t you just give the last time we visited?’ And he would be correct. I did just give the last visit...and the visit before that, and the visit before that! My excessive giving could be because of my need to pay it forward. But, I'm sure it has more to do with me not wanting to disappoint.”


I told Belle's story as one example of many, since all of my sister-friends cited the "dilemma of disappointment" as most problematic. This includes yours truly, as seen in my earlier example with the scouts. Since I’m pretty sure everyone on the planet has grappled with disappointment from time to time, why was it so hard for me to accept that disappointment is a fact of life, that although disappointment doesn't feel good, it doesn't have to be life shattering either, and that it is NOT my obligation to keep everyone happy? As Belle would say, "Saying no is never easy but sometimes saying no is the absolute only answer."


THE PEOPLE PLEASERS


"Givers need to set limits because takers rarely do."—Rachel Wolchin, blogger and author

Meet Malala: I worry about what people will say...


"This is my fatal flaw...I try to please people." Her voice quivered as she finally spoke those words aloud, maybe for the first time. "I guess it always goes back to me wanting folks to like me. Even though I exert a lot of self confidence, deep inside, I am not. I hold a lot insecurities, so I feel the need to be everything to everybody. I feel like if I don’t do what people ask, they won’t like or love me." Listening to her painful admission, I felt my inner voice quiver as I wanted to jump through the phone and give Malala the most endearing hug to reassure and comfort her, and to tell her that I am her friend no matter what. But I could sense, what she truly needed was a listening, non-judgemental ear, so instead, I continued to listen and mentally hugged her through the phone.


"I worry about what people will say. I struggle with this because I want people to see me as a kind person, one who would do anything to help someone out. So, saying no for me seems counter intuitive to how I want people to view me. I just feel the need to be needed and wanted." And then, silence. For maybe 10 seconds, feeling more like eternity, I heard nothing from Malala. Not a whimper; not even a breath. But out of this pause, suddenly immerged the voice of strength, courage, and vulnerability. She continued. "But I am still growing and learning...learning not to be dependent on what others think or feel about me, learning to accept myself for who I am. It’s hard undoing those dysfunctional ways I've guarded in my heart for years, but I am a work in progress. God is not through with me yet." And to that, I smiled.


Listening to Malala's story was both heartbreaking and reminiscent for meheartbreaking, because I love my friend dearly and would never want a moment in her day to go by when she feels unloved; reminiscent, because I too, am a recovering people pleaser and clearly remember those years when I would bend over backwards for people, just to hear the acknowledgement of "good job" or "couldn't have done it without you." I wanted to feel needed, indispensable. I wanted to be that "goto" person that everyone could count on, so I traded in my precious moments of rest, sleep and self-care for the false sense and fleeting security of living out the lyrics of I'm every woman, in my Chaka Khan voice. Truth is...no one person can be "every woman." I learned the hard way that being the so-called "keeper" of other's happiness was not only unrealistic, but exhausting, resulting in complete and total burnout.


THE WRAP UP: FINDING MY VOICE


“Every excuse you make is like an invitation to ask you again in a different way.”—Kelly Corrigan, writer, author, podcaster

Meet Serenity:  At one point, I could answer “all of the above.”


She was the very first sister to answer my call to dive deep into our self-examination of the word "no" and why not saying it drove us to do things, go places, buy stuff, and participate in events that we really didn't want to do or care to go. "At one point, I could answer all of the above," she said, referring to the the list I presented earlier. But the most dominant for Serenity was simply finding the right words to say "in the moment," she explained. "This was a big struggle for me. I wanted to say no, but I didn't know how to say it, so I ended up getting talked into doing what I didn't want to do."


These words resonated with me, all of my inner circle, and I would imagine with my readers as well. I cannot tell you how many times I've tried to "get out of things" I really did not care to do, fumbling with my words and offering non compelling arguments to dissuade the person from extending an invitation. And if that didn't work, then I'd resort to the ambiguous "well...maybe, but let me see how I feel." Terrible retort, by the way, because the invitation to whatever is across the horizon will always give you the vague promise of "feeling much better if you come."


So, what am I supposed to do?


Good question, and I am sure there are a bunch of extremely helpful articles, blog posts, research and position papers, and scientific studies out there that all aim to address it. As for me, however, this introspection was the first step in my quest to learn more about myself, and why in certain cases, saying "no" presented such a hardship.


And though I am not trained or qualified to give advice on what you should or should not do, if you find yourself dealing with my particular quandry, I will share what has been my saving grace:


"To thine own self, be true."—Shakespeare.


In short, I must be true to myself, true to my feelings, true to my wants, and true to what I do not want. I will no longer expense out my sleep and sanity for the sake of being well liked, approved of, or being seen as the answer to all things. I am not.


That's not to say I won't ever go to another baby shower, buy another Girl Scout cookie, or help another friend move. I will.


But, I will do so for the right reasons; because that is what I truly choose to do, and not because I am made to feel guilty or ashamed, or pestered into compliance.


Serenity once told me, "It’s taken almost 60 years, but I have found my voice and can say 'no' without remorse these days." I applauded her perseverance. It motivated me to continue my practice of the art of saying no, until I too, can let my yea, be yea; and my nay be nay, without excuse or reservation.


And the next time I am out shopping in the middle of the afternoon, coming face-to-face with these remarkable salespersons, I will hold my head high, reminding myself that"'No' is a complete sentence," and then approach the entrance way with confidence to say, "No, thank you." Then, I'll walk my happy self into the grocery store, feeling grateful...and empty handed.





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