Like a lot of women I know, I am a yes-woman, a rescuer, a helper. I say yes when I can’t possibly even do the thing I’m saying yes to because I’m already overbooked with all the other things I said yes to. I say it in my head, “no, no, no” but the other word forms on my tongue and before I know it, yes just slips out of my mouth before I can grab it back.
I was shopping last week for a work trip, looking at some dresses that I thought would be cool and comfortable for steamy California, when I started a conversation with a woman nearby (I do this often, and I like this about me). We quickly got to the fact that we were the same age, that we were looking for cute summer dresses, and the conversation flowed so easily that I somehow got to telling her how, at 49, I have trouble saying no to people.
Well. She wasn’t having any of that, and gave me a lesson in self-preservation that brought tears to my eyes. There needs to be nothing beyond the no, she said. No “no, I can’t do that for you because…” or “I’d love to help you, but… .” Just plain old no will do just fine.
I heard her.
I admire this kind of strength and honesty. What do we gain by putting ourselves aside to do for others at the expense of our own needs? Exhaustion, that’s what. Burnout. A heaviness that becomes oppressive and crushes our spirits. A silencing of our own voice.
Maybe this is the conundrum of the middle-aged woman? Dealing with work, adult kids, aging parents, growing commitments at a time in our lives where we thought we’d have less on our plates. We can’t just shirk our duties, quit our jobs to go live on organic farms, trip through the rest of our lives doing only what we want to do. But maybe no can become part of our vocabulary again, like it probably was when we were younger.
Of course I don’t want to stop doing things for those I love, but I’m going to be 50 in a few short months, and I hope to get more honest with myself and say no when no is truly what I mean to say. If this means pausing to gather my nerve, I will do that. I’ll remember this gorgeous woman, whose name I have already forgotten (I’m bad at names, I don’t like this about me), steel myself, and say no.