"I have to go into hibernation mode if I'm ever going to get this book done!" I said to my husband. I said it with a chuckle, not yet knowing just what that meant. He looked at our calendar and quipped, "Good luck!" when he saw my schedule.
Sometimes No Is the Loving Truth
If I wanted to be in writing mode in January then I probably needed to be saying no to things back in November and December (and probably shouldn't have taken on planning two big surprises weekends to celebrate his birthday last month!) but now I am ready. I know that to birth a manuscript by May means that I need to be churning out a chapter a week for the next couple of months. And to churn out a chapter means I need several uninterrupted days every single week. Every. Single. Week.
But since this is on top of an already full life of seeing friends, running a business, traveling to speak, and keeping up with things that matter to me like blogging, etc.-- something has to give. I'm not a full-time writer who has the luxury of spending months in a cabin.
So I have to say no. To a lot of events. To projects. To ideas. To people.
Saying No is Frickin' Hard!
Saying "no" isn't my forte. I'm a recovering people-pleaser. I want people to like me. And I want to communicate that I like them!
On Tuesday, I looked through my inbox and felt my shoulders collapse a bit just looking at all the requests: one friend wants to schedule our next lunch, another wants to know if I can help promote her book, a reporter wants to interview me for a story, a project partner wants me write a guest blog, a group I'm a part of needs me to RSVP for a lunch, someone who has interviewed me in her community wonders if I can return the favor, another asking me if I'm attending a specific conference, a close friend needs some advice and hopes I can call tonight, a friend of a friend wonders if I have 5 minutes to help mentor her through book publishing, and someone I met a few weeks ago read in my book that we should always set a date instead of putting it off so she wants to know when we can get together next. *sigh*
For almost every single one of them I can tell you why I should say yes: well this one helped me with my book launch so it's only fair I return the love, this one's a really good friend, this one would only take me fifteen minutes, this one is from someone who never asks me for anything so I want to come through so she gets more comfortable asking for help, this one would be fun to do, this one would help promote my business, and this one is a cause I really want to support. Almost all of them from women I love, or at least know and admire.
I don't want to miss out on anything fun. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I want to love my friends lavishly. I want to support my network and make time to be a giver.
But I know deep down that I can't birth this book and keep up my own life and do all these things. Even for people I love. Even for relationships that are important to me.
My friend Christine Arylo, the Queen of Self-Love, is like a little voice in my head:
"Stay true to yourself, even if it means disappointing another."
If that's true, then this week I feel like I'm in a graduate course for self-love. And while love is in the word-- I assure you that when doing it, it doesn't feel like hearts and rainbows; it feels like fear and panic.
How Not to Say No
With the first few emails I found myself sort of saying no, but not really.
I kept falling into the temptation to assuage my guilt:
- Barter: "No, I can't do that, but I can do this instead." --Which then left me still obligated, even if in a smaller way, but my head space was still committed to that project or person in some way.
- Justify: "I'm so sorry <insert long explanation here> but I so support you <insert long gush here>"-- Which then made me realize that in the 15 minutes it took me to say no, slightly defeating the purpose of trying to clear up my days.
- Delay: "I can't do lunch right now as I'm writing, but let's get something on the calendar for end of May!" which felt like a put-off, required 2-3 more emails to get it scheduled, and then I started dreading the end of May for when I'd be over-committed to all these things when what I'd probably need is a get-away!
I was trying to find a way to say yes while saying no, but I found that I felt just as bad, it wasn't freeing up head space, and it felt like I was still committed to things that didn't reflect the season of my life. Saying one thing and meaning another is not the path to integrity.
How to Say No
The gift of having to say no to many people all in the same time frame is that as I practiced, I got better:
"Dear amazing friend <insert name>-- You are important to me and this ________ <insert project, event, interview, request> is undoubtedly something I would love to do or be at; unfortunately I'm in a season of life where I have to say no to a lot of awesome things in order to do what I've already committed to do. I'm a fan of anyone who asks for what they want so I'm glad you asked and hope you feel comfortable reaching out again in a few months. With love, Shasta"
What I learned:
- Keep it short and simple. A no is a no, they don't need my sob story. The temptation to drag on is my own issue.
- Avoid promises. In some cases, the "no I can't do that, but I can do this" is the best approach. In committed relationships, that is what I'll be doing as needed. But in the vast amount of the requests, my gut knew that I just needed to say a firm and clear no, without getting hopes up or dragging out the process.
- Affirm them and their request. That's important to me to communicate my respect. It's possible they'll still get hurt feelings or be disappointed, but I know I spoke kindly.
- Invite them to ask again, later. I struggled with adding this one... but finally decided, in my case, that it felt good. One of the causes I champion is helping women to learn to ask for what they need... so even if I can't always say yes, I'm proud of them for asking. And I hope it causes them to feel safer asking things of me, as they can trust me to say yes or no, as needed.
Many people fall for the belief that we have to say yes to people we love. I disagree. In fact, I believe it's the people we love that can be our safest places to practice. We know they love us, we don't have to dance and sing to entertain them. We can practice listening to our intuition and acting on it.
My mantra this week:
"Stay true to yourself, even if it means disappointing another."
And I hope my friends believe that, too, even if it means saying no to me at some point.
p.s. And this doesn't mean I am ignoring all my friends-- that's never okay. I will continue to make time for my closest friends, partly for the sake of the friendship, and partly out of self-care to me.
p.s.s Next Friday, February 13, is Self-Love Day. If you live in LA then you can join Christine Arylo live to "take a bold stand to end your negative self talk" or watch from your computer via Livestream!