By Linda Stuart
As a young mom, working full time, trying to keep up with the world, I learned an valuable lesson from a client. A man even. Many things vie for our attention. Raising our kids, our personal relationships, laundry, school quality, exercise, response to disasters, political issues, charities, volunteering, what’s for dinner, our pets, our relatives, what’s happening in the world; all worthy, all wanting our time. I remember feeling guilty about choosing or prioritizing. It seemed that I was always reprioritizing depending on what was in front of me. I felt like a guilty ping pong ball, always behind, always having to make excuses, always reactive. Then, I was talking with a busy client, an architect. He was telling me about how full his life was and I asked him how he managed. He said, “ I learned to say, ‘no’ “. He went on, “Life is busy and messy; it will try and suck you in all the time. I learned to say ‘no’.”
I was taken aback. Who says “no” to worthy causes? Who says “no” to the call asking for charitable donations? Who says “no” to the request for time to help for whatever reason? After thinking about his perspective, I realized that he was right. No one, no matter how organized, wealthy or smart, can possibly keep up with everything that’s offered or asked. That meant I had to think about what was important to me and give myself permission to say “no” guilt free. When I tried it, I found it was quite liberating. And, I learned to say “no” firmly, but nicely and with the fewest words. Unfortunately, the more info I gave, the more I was challenged about my decision; trying to change my mind. I also found that I could sympathize with a cause/request without feeling that I had to get involved.
My priorities changed over the years, but I still gave myself permission to say “no”. Sometimes I would feel bad because I didn’t say “yes”, but I would ask “do I feel bad enough to give up something else?” That usually settled the issue right then. If not, then time to rethink my priorities.