I would consider myself to be a fairly articulate person. I have always loved language, and with my degree in English to help me, I don’t usually struggle to express myself. Except, in one particular situation. When it comes to saying no. It is such a simple and inoffensive word, yet it sticks in my throat somehow. So much so, that I will tie myself in knots looking for ways to turn the no into a yes, even if it means attempting the impossible.
There have been times when I have ended up being so hopelessly over committed, that I find myself thinking “please just let me get through this day.” “Just let me survive” “Just let me find the energy to do all the things I couldn’t say no to, and I promise not to take on so much next time!” I used to think this was because I was a chronic people pleaser. Afraid to say no. lest I should let anyone down. A while back, however, an aunt of mine challenged me on this. Her exact word were “I wouldn’t take you on!” It’s not often that you get to see yourself through the eyes of another, but this was one such moment of clarity. It began to dawn on me, that my fear of saying no is not about other people, in fact, it is all about me.
Firstly, I hate conflict. Not many people love it in fairness, but I absolutely cringe at the thought of it. I have this awful habit of trying to avoid it and invariably it ends up causing more awkwardness. You know how it is, you should call the person, but you chicken out and send an email, and then they don’t respond so you end up having to call anyway and now you have made things even worse! Yeah, I do that stuff all the time!
Secondly, I don’t like accepting my limitations and I certainly don’t relish having to admit them. Vocalising the fact that I simply don’t have time to take on anything else is tantamount to admitting defeat. Why can’t I squeeze one more thing in? Why wouldn’t I want to explore the next challenge? In a society where we seem to score points based on how tired and over extended we are, just saying no seems like you are not willing to play the game.
One of the great things about having good friends, is that they are willing to call you on your shit. Even when (and especially when) you don’t want to hear it. I was chatting to a friend of mine recently, and I was full of excitement about starting the new job. He warned me to be prepared for it to be more demanding and to take more out of me than I anticipated and to plan accordingly. I joked that perhaps I should delay my plan to learn Urdu, but in truth he hit the nail on the head. No sooner had I accepted the job, than I was looking up gyms in the area and wondering if I could squeeze a Pilates class into my lunch break. This is classic Arwen, why walk when you can run while stumbling blindly!
Another example of me being crazy happened a few weeks ago. I got a message from a school wanting me to teach a Zumba class for them, in September, as part of their adult education program. I didn’t want to take it on. Not that I don’t love teaching Zumba, because you know I do. However, I am already teaching 3 classes a week. I am still pretty new to teaching, so learning the choreography and practicing takes up a lot of my time. There were plenty of other reasons why I didn’t want to do it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say no. The weird thing was, this girl had sent a text to ask about the class, I don’t know her and am unlikely to ever meet her. All I needed to do was reply and say unfortunately I am not available, but I am not kidding when I say it took me days to build up to it. I even thought, briefly, about saying yes and then trying to get out of it closer to the time. Absolutely lunacy! Eventually, I did reply to the lady, and told her I couldn’t do it. Amazingly, nothing bad happened. She was very sweet about it, in fact.
The one good thing about getting older I find, is that you learn to recognise when you are being nutty and even laugh about it. The truth of the matter is unless I want to spend my whole life being over committed and stressed, I need to get a whole lot better at saying no. I don’t want to feel like I am surviving my days. I want to able to enjoy and appreciate each new experience and even allow myself some time to reflect on them, instead of being distracted by the next shiny thing.
Those of you who follow me on social media have probably seen me talking about Headspace. It is a guided meditation app that I have been dipping in and out of for a couple of years. I have set myself the challenge of meditating daily for 100 days, I am currently on day 9. Posting my progress towards this goal helps me to stay accountable. It only takes about 12 minutes, but there has been at least 3 occasions since I started when I have thought to myself “I don’t have time for this!” The irony of course being, these are exactly the days when I need it most. It has opened my eyes a lot to just how busy my mind can be. How difficult it often is to just let it settle and rest. This has really underlined how critical it is for me to resist the urge to fill every available portion of time with “stuff.”
Rudyard Kipling famously wrote “If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with 60 seconds worth of distance run, yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it” I am starting to believe that the most important distance to run is the space between yourself and your peace of mind. Be well xxx