What are your personal goals for the new year?
Many people create annual goals to mark the passing of the new year. I’ve always considered the year as existing from birthday to birthday, though. With my birthday having just passed and the new year a few short days away, this has been at the center of my mind for a while now. This has been a tough year where I’ve lost, learned, and figured out a lot about myself. I have a lot of hopes and aspirations for the year to come. A year that I hope to be stronger, wiser, and take better care of myself. A year full of goals where I finally learn to put myself first.
Among these goals is learning to say “no” — and meaning it.
I’ve always been afraid of disappointing people, my instinct being to put their happiness and comfort before my own. Even as I considered a birthday get-together this year, I wondered entirely in terms of other people’s preferences, afraid to be selfish and focus on my own. Do you ever experience this? Are you always trying to be nice to others at the expense of yourself?
I realize, on a cognitive level, that my inability to say “no” — or, rather, to put myself first — is based on an almost pathological level of fear. I’m afraid of disappointing people, yes. But also the consequences of that disappointment. Every time I let a friend down, I feel an overwhelming level of guilt. I don’t want to be diminished in the eyes of people I care about it, but at the same time, I need to be cognizant of losing myself in the process. Being incessantly agreeable is rather irrational, much as is the opposite — those people in our lives who are incessantly disagreeable, just for the sake of being contrary. I’m fearful of burning bridges. In my experience, many people take no as a sign of rejection. It might lead to bridges being burned and relationships severed. That’s always been my worst-case scenario. My self-promise — my birthday resolution, if you will — is to try to finally make decisions based on what I want, and what makes me happy, and not what will ultimately maintain the stasis of the world around me.
Because, you know what? No matter how often you put others and their comfort or appeasement before your own, it changes absolutely nothing. Putting your heart and soul into being there for others, for their hurts and celebrations and emotional upheavals won’t mean they will be there for you. It doesn’t mean that at all. Recently, I was talking to someone and they joked about everything always being “all about me”. I was paralyzed. How could I live so much for everyone else and still elicit that reaction? People will see what they want to see in you. And it’s quite possible that no matter how much of yourself you believe you are putting out there, they may not see the true you at all.
Treat your personal life as you’d treat your work life. I’m self-employed, and I’ve learned that I need to say “no” to some things in order to be free to say “yes” to others. It’s not that I don’t want to take on more work or opportunities — and I often do — but you always have to weigh your falafel balls and understand if what you are about to say yes to will make your current work and projects suffer. I can’t let that happen. I also can’t afford to work for free, or take on low-paying projects that may take away time from those that are more profitable. Personal lives work in the same way. By saying “yes” to everything all the time in fear of disappointing people, you are ultimately taking away the value from the time you may spend elsewhere. That may be increased quality time with people you value who you don’t spend enough time with, or simply quality time with yourself. Every lady needs the occasional blowout and pedicure respite, and I am no exception. I’ve learned, in all areas of my life, that the greatest successes and failures come with surviving the challenge of prioritizing opportunities that present themselves.
Learn to slow down. This is another struggle area for me, and it’s absolutely related to the concept of no. Think about all the times that you are asked to do something or be somewhere and you generate this huge anxiety over something that doesn’t have to be an issue at all. At least for me, the more I freak out, the less able I am to intelligently process information and consider my options. Give yourself a break to sit down, think and make the choice that’s best for you. This isn’t necessarily the same choice you would have made to alleviate the anxiety of that moment. I’ve said yes to many activities and commitments entirely out of fear of losing the favor of others. It’s a favor that ultimately I didn’t really have anyway.
Learn to listen. Not just to others. I spend a lot of time listening to others and obsessing about what they may feel or think. But I’m shockingly bad at listening to myself. I am notorious for circling through many emotions before allowing them into conscious awareness, especially in my relationships. There’s a lot of mistakes I’ve made that I could have avoided if I took the time to look inward and identify my emotions sooner. I knew what I was feeling, I just didn’t let myself acknowledge it before it was too late. And that led to me repeating the same mistakes time and again.
Practice makes perfect? I’m assuming saying no is much like any other skill — it’ll feel clumsy and awkward at first, but get easier with time.
What I’ve realized is that the act of saying “no” isn’t what makes a person rude or disagreeable. That’s not the moment that can create conflict or burn bridges. It’s more about how you say no, rather than the fact you’re saying no, that makes the ultimate difference. If a job or an activity or — if it so happens, a person — no longer fits into your life, care about them enough to be straight with them. Don’t assume you can just delete fellow humans from the newsfeed of your life and it’s an acceptable human action. I’ve tried to do this, and I’ve had it done to me. It simply doesn’t work. People aren’t tuna sandwiches, and we can’t love them one day and lose our taste for them another. And, if we do, we deserve the mutual respect of addressing the situation.
The art of no. I say that realizing there’s really no art to the word. As women, uniquely, I think it’s easy to feel obligated to say yes to things that we’d rather turn down so that we don’t appear rude. I think the goal is to be able to say no while at the same time letting the other person know you hear them, and you value what they are saying. You can keep it simple. You don’t need to give excuses or lie about other plans. But I think it’s important to thank them for thinking of you. Thank them for asking. It’s how you say no that’s so much more important than the no itself, isn’t it?
I’ve written about friendship and love and loss a lot this year, and to be honest, I’ve come to rather limited conclusions. I know that I’ve lost a great deal — people who I loved dearly that were gone by a power higher than ourselves — but I also gained a lot. And as the year closes out, some of my connections that felt the most tenuous ended up being the strongest, and those I couldn’t let myself let go of now feel oddly foreign. From another life. Maybe another self.
I’ve always wanted nothing more than to be the kindest, most considerate, most helpful person I can be. If being that involves sometimes having to say no, there’s no reason that can’t involve the same sentiment, right?
Happy New Year, to all of you. I know (er, no?? HA), it’s going to be an incredible new journey for each and every one of us. (And 2013, you can suck it. Good riddance, indeed.)