The Gift of No

Candlelight (Credit: Stefan Nyffenegger/Pixabay)
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I know I’m not alone in this, but I have a lot of trouble saying “No.”  Whether that’s fear of letting others down or pride – or both – I’m not entirely sure, but either way, what ends up happening is that I say “Yes” to most invites and “Can do” to most requests and live the vast majority of my life feeling over-extended and like I’m underperforming. And that serves no one well.


Like many, I do hate the idea of disappointing others. When they include me or ask for my help, declining feels a bit like an insult or – worse – an admission that I’m not up to the task. (There’s that pride thing.)

I suppose that mentality was ingrained in me by my parents. My dad worked hard to provide for his family and managed to stay involved in his community – college alumni association, local politics, church, dinner and cards with friends. There wasn’t a lot of “downtime” in his life, though he maintained a level of calm composure – an easy going-ness – that made him seem unhurried and unharried.

My mom is a different story – busy raising four kids and maintaining a household, always on the go, and always, with an air of frenetic energy. She even walks fast (though, at 90, the pace has slowed a tinge). She makes lists and organizes and hustles and bustles – still — and that’s while battling stage-four lung cancer, mind you.

I’m a product of both of them, of course. But I am most definitely my mother’s daughter. I’m self-conscious of the harriedness – even wrote about it in a past life, noting the ways in which we (most people, anyway) often match up with Winnie the Pooh archetypes:

I didn’t notice it quite so much while I was being Rabbit. When one is extremely busy and very important, there isn’t much time for introspection. However, when I found myself sounding (and feeling) exceedingly Eeyorish, it occurred to me that perhaps I really had lost my way. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for poor old Eeyore, but I don’t want to be him.

Quite frankly, to the extent we get to choose our character, I’d like to take a little bit of (the best of) all of them: the bravery of Piglet, the intellect of Owl, the exuberance of Tigger, etc. But mostly, I think I’d like to get back to that calm, steady, peaceful place of Pooh.


As we geared up for Christmas, I realized I’ve been far too Rabbit lately and have now wandered into Eeyore territory. The result being that my favorite time of the year has felt…empty and a bit cold. And it isn’t just Mother Nature to blame for that.

This is going to seem strange, I know, but I do believe one of my favorite Christmas seasons in recent years was the year that I had cancer. Not because I had cancer and was undergoing radiation for it (though I will always maintain that if one has to have cancer, my battle with it was about as mild and successful as one could reasonably hope for), but because life necessarily slowed down that year.

It wasn’t just that others were more patient and understanding with me — though they were — but because I was kinder and gentler with myself. I gave myself permission to say “No,” and not feel like I had to accomplish everything — or much of anything other than showing up and appreciating my loved ones. The urge to multi-task and spend the month of December racing around at full speed fell away and was replaced with a warm blanket of cozy reassurance that God was walking alongside me and all would be okay, and now was the time to focus on the wonder and beauty of that gift. And so I did.

No, I don’t yearn to return to being a cancer patient. Ever. But I do want to take the lesson of that time and re-apply it to my life going forward. To recognize that life does — and will — continue apace around me and the world won’t end if I’m not paddling frantically ‘neath the water at all times. To focus enough on the present — and the people I’m fortunate to share it with — that I’m actually living in it, experiencing and enjoying it, rather than anxiously awaiting what comes next or wistfully reflecting back on it once it’s gone. To accept that it’s okay to say “No,” or “I simply can’t right now,” and concentrate on completing one task at a time, placing one foot in front of the other at measured pace — that is the gift I’m giving myself this year.



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