100: The Strength of No

100: The Strength of No

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

The Strength of No

I encourage people to remember that “no” is a complete sentence.

~Gavin de Becker

All my life I heard yes, yes, yes. Any time a patient needed my dad he would go to his optometrist office no matter what time of the day it was. He would make sure breakfast was always made for my brother and me, but he would leave the house immediately to take care of whoever had called him. If a volunteer organization needed him, he was there. Any time they would ask him to help with something, it was “How high do I need to jump?”

Dad was a huge role model for me. He appeared to always be fulfilled and happy. So I tried to do the same thing, “be everything to everyone.”

Amazing, right?

The part I never saw was what I witnessed when he was on his deathbed, truly exhausted. Because he had always said yes to everyone except himself. He had been sick for fifteen years but never told us, pretending that everything was fine.

My dad’s need for love and acceptance from the external world was so strong that it drained him in many areas of his life. As much as he loved my mom, she wanted to support him and not deny him his wish to be the “ultimate giver.” She was always the strong woman, and she never spoke up about how he was living his life. She just wore this mask and took it. So that was another thing I modeled — being strong. Give and be strong.

As an adult, I continued the cycle — giving and giving, even to people who did not appreciate my giving.

Why did I do it? What made me say yes all the time?

And what did saying no really mean to me?

It took some time to figure it out.

All my life I have been a pleaser. I love to make people happy. I used to do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING for ANYONE who needed me! That is what life is about, right? At least that’s what I thought when I modeled myself after my generous, loving, altruistic father, who pleased everyone at the expense of his own health and happiness.

I remember the day… the day I finally said “No.” That was the day I grew up. A little girl trapped in a forty-five-year-old body became a woman who truly understood her worth that day. I could still help people and have purpose and do what I was here to do in the world, but not at my personal expense or the expense of my children.

Here’s what was happening in my life the day I grew up. I had just gone through a divorce, my kids’ dad had moved to California from Las Vegas where we lived, I was driving my kids to three different schools every day, and sometimes I had more month than money. I was working hard to support us, but not at the expense of my kids. I was committed to being there for them no matter what.

I was stretched thin!

So that day, I was working at my desk, going on conference call after conference call, attending meeting after meeting. I was rocking it! Then I looked over at my phone and a longtime friend was calling. We talked for about fifteen minutes, just small talk, and I could sense she was getting ready for “the ask.” And there it was: “Oh and by the way… do you know someone who can help me with this or can you help me plan this…”

I remember catching myself… the old me, the one who was a pleaser no matter how much extra work it was for me, or how much it would distract me from my mission. I would always just do what I was asked. But this time I took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry but I just have to say no. I need to focus on my kids and my work.”

I felt this sense of power like never before. I didn’t worry about whether she would get upset. Instead, I really looked at my values and what was most important was for me to thrive and for my kids to thrive.

That day I got clear. Really clear. I learned that being a martyr is not good at all, and it is NOT what we are supposed to do. In the end, it benefits no one.

Honestly, that was the best call of my life. Ever since, I have set boundaries for what I will and won’t do, and also for what I will stand for and not sell out to.

Now I make sure to take care of the relationships that matter to me, and that means keeping myself in top form. Watching the most successful people in the world, I noticed there were certain things that they did, one being to stick to the routines that worked for them. So every Sunday night at six, no matter where I am in the world, I sit myself down and plan my week. I look at what needs to happen that week and what resources I need to access to make that happen.

And every morning, I wake up and I say, “Today is going to be the BEST day of my life.” It might sound silly, but it really works and it sets me up for the day.

I also make sure that I stay true to my ideals and that I work with people I respect.

I’m creating a new role model for my children, building on what I learned from my father, but taking it up one more level to make sure that my priority remains myself and my children. It’s like they say on the airplane — “put your oxygen mask on first.” You can’t give what you don’t have.

~Loren Slocum Lahav

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