Learning to Say “No” Was The Hardest Lesson I Needed Most

“Are you free to babysit tomorrow night?”

My phone buzzed. “Are you free to babysit tomorrow night?” It was a parent of a student I had in my class two years ago. This was a random, last minute request from someone I hadn’t heard from in years. “What time?” I asked, feeling obligated to make it work. It’s good to do nice things for people, right? I was supposed to help a fellow mommy out.

“Like 6 pm to maybe 2 am. Kids could come to your house?”

I tried to work it out in my mind. The errands I needed to run the next day could wait. Did I have food for the children? Where would they sleep? Maybe the couch… the couch could work. But 2 am — wow — well, I could set my alarm…

The truth is: I am terrible at saying, “No.” I have a natural desire to please everyone (don’t we all?).

It’s a desire I sometimes have to push against to maintain my mental health. I remind myself, “You can’t please everyone.” Some people won’t like what I write/say/think/do. Some people won’t like me — it’s okay, move along. But still the fact that I hate disappointing people has me dragging myself to almost every play date, birthday party, and event that is presented to me. With my daughter in tow and the baby in the sling, I have hauled 6 ft. folding tables, cooked meals for a crowd, and managed five hours at an aquatic center in Florida heat while juggling bags, babies, and FIVE blowout diapers. I come home feeling like supermom.

Yes, I can “do it all” — but I am so tired at the end of “doing it all” that I find myself asking if it was even worth it.

I also have a belief that I should take the opportunities that come before me. An e-mail lands in my inbox from a complete stranger with a copy of their book and I always take the time to read it. I even wrote about how much I love reading stranger’s books. I also spend time trying to write a thoughtful, compassionate, but constructive response when I have finished each book. But, even when a book gets tedious or boring, I push myself to finish out of some self-imposed obligation. When new clients reach out to me, I always say yes, even if my schedule it packed and even when I’m not sure I want to work with them. I say yes to almost every favor a friend asks of me, even things that keep me up all night making birthday party signs or require borrowing things that I may never see returned to me. I say yes so often that I forgot I could say no — I forgot that sometimes I need to say “no”.

Trying to do everything is not liberating — it’s suffocating.

Real talk: You can’t say “yes” to everything.

Jim Carrey taught us that in Yes Man. Trying to do everything is not liberating — it’s suffocating. The pressure I inflicted on myself to by trying to do everything, be everywhere, help everyone, and make everyone love me was crushing. I am the first one to say that life is about balance but also the first one to tip the scales by taking all the weight on myself. I don’t ask for help until I am already drowning. Weekends became overwhelming instead of relaxing. Parties became emotionally exhausting instead of fun. People visiting our home became a rush to clean and entertain instead of an opportunity to spend quality time together.

Learning how to say “no” is one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn but also one that has vastly improved my quality of life. It has helped me focus on the things that really matter and helped me prioritize my life. I now find that trying to do too much can be counterproductive. I don’t get as much done because I am spread too thin. When we are invited out to dinner, I weigh the options: is this going to be a race through dinner, me bouncing the baby, trying to get a forkful of food in my mouth every few minutes? Or am I really going to be able to enjoy it?

I’m trying to cultivate a peaceful life. That means less rushing around, less stress, and sometimes just… less. I want to say yes to things we can all enjoy and enrich our lives. I want to find the moments to savor and the opportunities that are worth saying ‘yes’ to. I am learning to choose wisely and discern the difference.

“Sorry, I can’t,” I typed back. “Hope you find someone.”

Kayt Molina
Kayt Molina

Writer

Kayt is a writer, mother, and cooking show enthusiast living in Miami, FL. She is currently stalling miserably on her attempt at writing a novel but she is still hopelessly optimistic. She writes for various nonprofits, companies, and clients to help them communicate their messages effectively.

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