Saying No to Receive Yes
When I was young, I felt burdened to be the "good girl," the people pleaser. In a society where I was valued for being a follower, to obey and to maintain what others believed to be "lady-like" behaviour, there was this constant pressure to be perfect. As a kid, when I tried to break these norms, I got punished for it. I spent six years of my elementary and middle school days alone and friendless; I had been bullied for everything people could think of, from being poor, to liking video games, and to being the "teacher's pet." My peers made fun of me for collecting anime, watching Beasties, and spending recess playing Magic cards. Those days were some of the darkest ones in my life. At that age, I couldn't understand what I did to deserve such hatred from people that I wanted to spend time with; all I wanted was to fit in, to be invited to play tag, instead of being turned away every time I asked. Over time, I tried to keep my head down, to blend into the crowd to avoid the suffering. It was a decade of unspoken depression, and it wasn't until I hit university that I spoke about the pain and rejection I had endured for years.
Back then, girls were expected to respect gender roles and those that refused were often labelled "bitches" or "tomboys" for showing the same assertiveness that would have been attractive in men. I was often labelled as one of the "boys," the only girl in my programming class growing up. When you showed characteristics outside the norms, people dismissed your femininity entirely. I grew up in a Yes culture that warned me not to shake the tree, to avoid conflict for the benefit of the group. To be different was to be disrespectful, and to be different was to be the target of ridicule by others. However, as I soon learned when I got to university, there is a problem when we default to answering Yes: it can be a shallow, short-term solution to adversity. It can even be ineffective, confusing, and dangerous later in life for decisions that truly matter.
In a previous post, I spoke how we are on the cusp of a new age of being, where we are searching for depth and meaning in our day-to-day lives. Unlike the Industrial Revolution, where happiness was based on material security and wealth, saying Yes had its benefits. In fact, saying Yes was a necessary part in maintaining the economy because wealth resulted from mass production, which required followers to use and agree to the instructions already given. Problems were a lot simpler then, and having one solution (instead of many) was perfectly acceptable. However, this blind and automatic Yes thinking is dangerous in today's society, where things change so rapidly and multiple perspectives are needed to solve large system problems like health, finance, education, and more.
Furthermore, more recent generations like millennials are driven not just by the need to make money, but to feel like their actions are making a difference. A huge part of making a difference, especially for social issues (e.g. racism, poverty), is to know what it is you stand for. Thus, using No becomes significant in rejecting opportunities that conflict with your values, so that you can focus on what matters. As the saying goes, "If you stand for everything, you stand for nothing."
Most alarming, the auto Yes also harms our personal lives. Unlike previous generations, we have been plagued with a perpetual busyness, feeling that there is always something new to finish and being unable to truly relax. Our schedules and lists are packed, and we often make time for everyone else and not ourselves. This mentality becomes problematic because in order to truly practice self-care and self-love, you need to make space for yourself. You need the space for exercise, sleep, and winding down. As a speaker once said at a conference, airlines ask you to put on your mask first in case of emergency, before helping others. Why? Because you need to save yourself before you can save others. Showing up the best you can in every area of life requires a high and committed level of self-care.
Of course, there are many people who forego self-care altogether, thinking of it unimportant because of things like FOMO (fear of missing out). The phrase, "I'll sleep when I'm dead," comes to mind. Ironically, the people who cling most to FOMO are the ones who are the most insecure and dissatisfied with their lives, constantly looking to validate themselves from the outside. They preoccupy themselves and are terrified at the thought of spending time alone. In fact, being alone (which is very different from being lonely) comes with a lot of stigma when it really shouldn't. Is it so bad to take yourself on a date, to go to a restaurant or a movie alone? Furthermore, what does it say about you when you can't or won't spend time with yourself? Think about it.
The danger about this perpetual busyness, this obsession of saying Yes to every event or opportunity possible, is that it is an illusion, a pretense. Busyness is a comfort mechanism that we use to avoid the problems we need to solve, the heart work we need to do to heal. For example, instead of ending the business you hate or the relationship that is toxic, many people stay. They tell themselves they are too busy with work, dates, and events to have the time to sit down and having a conversation with themselves. They use busyness as their excuse for not showing up, rather than taking responsibility and stepping into their power.
To make matters worse, this busyness consumes your life that there isn't space for anything else. If your schedule is booked every hour of every day, and an opportunity came by for an amazing business or a relationship, what do you think is going to happen? You have already failed because you never gave things a chance to succeed. It is the cost of saying Yes to things that don't matter.
Now that we are aware of this pattern, how do we break it? We say No to the things we don't truly want, and we make the space to receive. We learn to use our voice, to identify the things that align with our values, and to take a stand. We reject the things that compromise the integrity of who we are, because we know that it is better to be alone than to undermine your character. We learn that we are powerful, whole, and enough, and that our greatest strength comes from loving ourselves with the highest standard possible. Slowly but surely, we become surrounded by the things that give us joy and meaning, simply because we had the courage to say No. Isn't saying No such a beautiful thing?