42: Just Say No — and Sometimes Yes

42: Just Say No — and Sometimes Yes

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Just Say No — and Sometimes Yes

Learn to say “no” to the good so you can say “yes” to the best.

~John C. Maxwell

The phone rang. It was the president of the library board of trustees. Three months previously I’d resigned from that board; it wasn’t a good fit for me. I did remain on a non-board committee, as I believed in the mission, but the process had frustrated me and eaten up more time than I anticipated when I joined.

“Good morning. How are you?” His cheeriness put me on guard. Something was up. “Janet is stepping down as chair of the public relations committee and I hoped you would be willing to take over. It requires, you know, writing letters and refining talking points for speaking to groups and since you’ve done a lot of public speaking and you write…”

“No. No, I’m sorry I can’t do it.”

Wow! I’d said that?

After a few pleasantries and best wishes for him to find a new committee chair, we said goodbye.

I poured a cup of coffee and sat at the kitchen table to watch the blue jays bully the other birds for space at the feeders.

I felt light, free, amazed at myself. I’d just said “No” with no explanation. I gave him no opening for discussion. No exaggerated excuses about other responsibilities, problems, too many commitments, not being up to the challenge. Not even, “I’ll think about it,” while gathering the courage to call back and say no. Just “No.” And surprisingly, I didn’t feel guilty about it. I could have done the job. My calendar had lots of space. I had the credentials and experience in both writing and public speaking.

But I was done with all that. After more than twenty years on the local animal shelter board, twenty-eight years as a 4-H leader, an officer in the Cancer Society and garden club and other organizations, I needed my life back. Now retired, I dreamed of uninterrupted time to tackle writing a novel, to try pastel painting, and to experience other new things. It was time to stop saying “as soon as….”

One by one I had resigned from each responsibility as my term finished, or when someone else could step up in my place. The next years would be mine. I wanted to write, to learn to paint, to take classes instead of teaching them, to try yoga, to spend some days doing nothing.

I wrote it on the refrigerator memo board. “Choose wisely. ‘As soon as’ is here.”

I don’t plan on being a hermit. And I will take on short-term volunteer tasks, such as manning a yard sale booth for three hours, or giving one lecture on canine behavior, or spending one morning weeding the county courthouse flowerbeds. Saying no to the big obligations and recurring commitments will let me look forward to the things I choose to do, instead of resenting the time it takes to dress, drive, and attend yet another meeting of an organization.

I realize that sometimes I did choose to do the things that were on my calendar, to rise through the ranks, to take responsibilities that ate up more time than I believed they would. The trouble is, many times when you assume the mantle people expect you will continue to wear it year after year.

From now on I will be chary of chairmanships. Bored with boards. I don’t want to be in charge of, president of, chair of, leader of… anything. Been there, done that, successfully, if I do say so myself. I will now be a happy occasional soldier instead of a general.

I will be gleeful when I awake to nothing more pressing than brushing the dog or hanging laundry out in the sun, and reminding myself that “as soon as” is right now.

When the phone rings, as it will, asking if I can edit one letter or arrange one luncheon for a visiting author, I will probably say, “Yes, I’ll do it. Just this once.”

~Ann Vitale

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