I would make for the most boring episode of Say Yes to the Dress ever.
One of the best things about college is that I’m always learning new things. In the past year or so, I’ve learned to use Photoshop really well, learned more history about Greek life than is useful to anyone, learned names, learned to code, learned to identify a drunk person vs. a high person, how to use every type of fire extinguisher I could find on campus, how to fit 9 people in a 5-person car, how to talk someone out of a suicide, how to get people to respond well to being handed a flyer, how to fill out tax forms, how to use LinkedIn, how to take care of natural hair, how to respond to the creepy “I love black girls,” how to intimidate freshmen, how to write a hard-hitting news story, how to fill out a purchase order…
I could list thousands.
Point being: I know how to do a lot of stuff. But after years of accumulating skills, one skill I’m trying to develop still holds me back from living the life I want: The skill to say no.
I am notorious for it among my friends and family. I am horrible at saying no to people. My parents ask me to man their store while I’m on my way out to see friends over break? “Sure!” An advisor asks me to create an ad campaign for a program, due in 2 days? “No sweat!” My boss asks if I’m free at 7am on a Sunday morning for a photographer to take shots of my room? “Got it!”
Some call it benevolence, some call it a guilt complex, but I call it a serious lack of spine, and it’s something I’ve been working for years to fix about myself.
This year I decided to set this problem as a concrete goal: I put it on my list of New Year’s resolutions, I read blogs and articles about it, I looked it up in self-help books, and I meditated deeply on it, trying to get a grip on what felt like a legitimate phobia to me. Though I can’t say I’ve completely come to terms with it, I can say I’ve realized some things since New Years Day that are helping me deal with “the other N word.”
1. Sometimes people just don’t deserve a yes.
We’ve all had that encounter: It’s been a long week, you’re beyond exhausted, and all you have to look forward to is sitting in bed and watching that favorite rom-com, or having dinner with a friend. Lo and behold, someone is OUT TO FREAKIN’ GET YOU that night. They knock on your door, or call you minutes before they need you to this generally unreasonable task.
“Oh heyyyy,” they say, “I was meaning to ask you earlier to help me out with this simple, yet time-consuming task that I could’ve totally done myself but didn’t feel like doing”
There was a time in my life (read: a few months ago) when I would respond to this kind of assignment with something excessively chipper.
“I’m on it!” “Nooooo sweat, boss!” or “That’s no biggie, I got you!” were some of my favorites, but inside I was thinking
“I will never forget that you’ve done this to me. You are an enemy of serenity. I hate you.”
My new reality ditched the passive-aggressiveness and got real. If someone approaches me with an unreasonable request, they had better have a concrete contingency plan, because they are getting the big no. It’s not acceptable to bend my plans because of someone else’s disregard of their responsibilities. Even in the case that I’m planning to go home and veg, I deserve respect of my time. Scratch that, in fact, ESPECIALLY when I plan to go home and veg, I deserve the time to do so. As I’ve emphasized in the past, Me Time is essential.
2. Too few No’s can hurt my credibility: The pushover effect.
In my group of friends, I am undoubtedly “the happy one.” I’m the one that encourages everyone to think positively, reminds everyone to speak respectfully in an argument, and the one everyone can depend on to go out of my way to help.
It’s 3am. You need a DD? I can be out of bed! Forgot your headphones at home and need a pair for class? Take mine! I don’t need music on my bus ride anyway! Can I lend you fifty bucks so you don’t max out your credit card on a present for your high-maintenence girlfriend? But OF COURSE!
All of that “Yes”ing starts to take a toll on your image. After awhile, people started seeing me as too willing to bend to other people’s requests. I went from being the one you could count on to get you out of a bind to the one you called upon whenever it was convenient. Not. Okay.
Being reliable is awesome. Being a lackey is not.
3. A positive answer doesn’t guarantee a positive result.
There’s this silly notion people often have that the whole world would be a happier place if everyone got what they wanted all the time. I almost wrote a sentence here but, instead, I’ll hit you with a list.
The state of Arizona
Point being, not every “yes” is a good thing. Agreeing to someone’s request may feel like the nice thing to do– it may even be self-gratifying– but often times saying yes is in fact the wrong thing. All because it’s the affirmative, doesn’t mean it’s reaping progress.
4. There is nothing to be afraid of. I WILL survive the average “No.”
For a long time I was this “yes” saying fairy, sprinkling my friends, family, and colleagues with yes-lined happy-dust and floating around on a cloud of affirmatives. I felt like saying no would end my relationships with people and that severing connections with people would be the end of me.
This morbid paranoia didn’t go away through an epiphany of any sort, but is finally gone from my life. As I’ve grown to experience new things in college, I’ve realized that getting a no is really not a problem to most people. They generally give a nonchalant “Alright, that’s cool, thanks anyway.” and just move on with life. They ask the question, they get a no, and they keep on living. They survive the no and, more importantly, I survive it too. Every single time.