This week I acted on a lesson that has taken me too many decades to learn. I determined what I could and could not do, communicated this determination to the parties involved, realigned expectations and deadlines, and put things in place so I could fulfill my obligation without killing myself or losing my mind. I learned my lesson, a lesson that involved saying no and/or expressing what I needed. For longer than I care to admit, my default thought process has been to prioritize what others needed or wanted from me. I would twist myself into knots trying to fulfill expectations. It never occurred to ask for what I needed. It never occurred to me to alter the fulfillment of what I was being asked to do or give to fit my life, or what I had going on. If I could do it, shy of killing myself, I would. To suggest an alternative that would make my life easier, say no, or need to make an adjustment required an outright emergency. My need to please was very strong.
I remember the day it all came to a head. I was invited to write a set of articles on 3 passages assigned to me from the Gospel of Matthew. I am a Mark scholar. I tell you this, not to suggest that I could not do it, but to let you know where my passion lies. I accepted, and if I were to be honest, I'd have to admit that I accepted it because I thought it was the best offer I could get. I filled the empty space with something I did not particularly want because I did not believe I could get what I wanted. You know how it goes: half a loaf is better than none.
I filled the empty space with something I did not particularly want because I did not believe I could get what I really wanted.
To say that I struggled and that writing those articles pained me, is an understatement. They took the life out of me and ate up so much valuable time-time that could have been spent on projects that I really wanted to do. Those articles hung around my neck like the proverbial albatross. Those articles showed me how insecure I was, how much faith I lacked in my own sense of call and abilities, and how I NEVER wanted to feel like that again. I never wanted to be shackled by a decision I made out of fear, doubt, or pleasing someone solely on their terms. To be clear, I was not pressured into accepting this assignment. All of the pressure, fear, doubt, and ultimately that "painful yes" came from ME.
I submitted the articles. Finally. Horribly late. And the editor thanked me and then extended another invitation for me to write 3 articles on Mark. By that time, I was working on other projects (catching up on projects that those articles took me away from) and did not have the time to do it. Mark! I could have had Mark all along! If I had graciously said no and asked to be kept in mind for Mark, chances are, I would have gotten that assignment when it came up. Instead, I spent all this time and energy on something I wasn't that excited about and that ended up taking away the assignment I wanted.
I spent all this time and energy on something I wasn't that excited about and that ended up taking away the assignment I wanted.
There are countless times that I have said "yes" out of fear, insecurity, or thinking it was the best I could get. However, the article situation really clarified for me how these "yes's" were standing in the way of me moving forward. I still have a hard time with "no's," but they get easier with practice:). And when saying "no" seems too hard, I think about how it will become another "painful yes" and govern myself accordingly.
What about you-what "hard no" do you need to give to avoid a "painful yes"?