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I'm that person who always, always, alwaysssss says yes to everything. Even to things I do not want to do, or that I know will hinder me from doing other things. Does this sound like you? This was why it was so hard for me to say "no." Let’s take a deep dive, shall we?
Let’s start at the beginning.
I was raised in a very strict household, where I had to say "yes" to everything. Anything my parents asked of me I had to do, I couldn’t back talk or say "no." No, simply put, was not part of my vocabulary until I turned 22. (Yes, it seriously took me that long.) I remember the first time I said no... more like my soul remembered the first time. Oh boy, was I ever not prepared for what was to come. I was seven and it was a Sunday morning—my mom was getting my sister and I ready for church. Something we did every single week, since forever. However this time I decided to challenge my mom, and tell her that I wasn’t going to church because, I had just found out that week that my best friend from school doesn’t go. I remember saying no to my mom, and remembering what her face looked like. It took my mom a few seconds to comprehend what I just said, her face, her eyebrow raised, and hand close to my face... not the loving hand gesture I might add. It was the I’m gonna smack you hand, just so we know how close I was to peeing my pants. I never questioned her about church again ever, and went to church with her every Sunday for years.
The second time I said no was at a family function. My uncle had asked me to be a “grown-up girl” and help out my aunts and girl cousins in the kitchen, and to serve guests as I wasn’t a child anymore. And I told him no—I wanted to play, not serve my family. I asked him why he wasn’t helping if they needed help. Innocently too. I was a very soft spoken child. I didn’t also understand the male patriarchy, that was heavily embedded in my family. I understood it after this instance, though. My uncle pointed it out in front of my whole family, as I walked back to play with my cousins. In front of my whole family, for not being an obedient girl and how I wasn’t going to find a boyfriend, if I didn’t learn from an early age how to be a woman, when it reality he was grooming me to be a housewife. However, the next time I didn’t play with my cousins, I went straight to the kitchen.
The third time I said no was to my boyfriend of four years. I spent a “suspiciously” large amount of time on my phone that day, unaware of the time I spent on it because I was in college and social media is all the rage... he asked me if he could go through my phone, and I said no. I started to question why he wanted to first do it, and then it proceeded into questioning his trust in me. This gravitated into back and forth arguing, yelling, throwing items, all over the grounds of me not giving him my phone... he told me that I didn’t love him, and that I was hiding something, which is why I wouldn’t let him go through my phone. However, the next time he didn’t ask and I didn’t bother to question it.
Looking back at all these instances, there is a common denominator: Fear and Embarrassment.
Each time I’ve said no, there has been a negative connotation associated with it. It’s all been because of these traumatic and negative instances, that have caused me to go with the flow, instead of challenging things ever, or having the ability to say no and be ok with it.
How this has affected me in my adult life...
It’s lead me to be passive in all aspects of my life. Work and personal. I end up doing things I don’t want to do, or don’t have the time to do because I hate disappointing people, or have them lash out at me. It feels like I have “take advantage of me,” tattooed on my face. This has resulted in me spending more time on “pleasing others,” which results in less time focusing on myself.
How I changed that...
The First Time I Said No
I remember it clearly as it was such a shock to the person I said no to. I usually would stay late and do overtime, at my part time job, as the people I worked with hated their job, and our branch was always so busy. It’s was as if our front door was a revolving door, people were constantly coming in non-stop. Now I’m a workaholic, and I can stand on my feet for hours. I hate when it’s not busy. However, when we’re busy you lose count of time—which was always the case for me. I had a lot of customers—as I was the most knowledgeable employee due to me being one of the older employees, and also because I did a lot of roles within my branch. So people always lined up in my queue and again, me, wanting to please took everyone. I never said no, which resulted in me working through lunches and breaks. Anyways, my boss always assumed that I was ok with staying an extra hour or two, because I never said anything, or said no when she did ask. However one day I had to pick up my boyfriend from work. It was winter negative 20 degrees or something, and the days that I was late he would wait for me in his truck. We were sharing a car at the time, and I would drive to work after dropping him off and pick him up after my shift, as his shifts were 12 to 13 hours. My shifts were eight hours, so there was always time for me to go back and forth. It was nearing the end of my shift, and I knew I had to bolt out of there right at the end of my shift, or he would freeze his ass off sitting in his truck, if I was any later than my scheduled time. As I wrapped up my stuff and started to head out. My boss stopped me and asked where I was going. I was shocked and asked her "what do you mean... it’s the end of my shift," I said. She responded back with, "you usually stay later so I didn’t schedule anyone to come in to close."
Now, I had a dilemma.
Do I just let my boyfriend stay in the cold and develop frostbite because I couldn’t say no, or do I just bite the bullet and say no? I responded with, no. Then proceeded to provide and explanation as to why I couldn’t stay, because of my situation, and that she should’ve asked beforehand.
After that incident she always asked, each and every time. I couldn’t believe how easy it was... the power of one word “no.” I just had to put my foot down, and lay down the law—it changed my confidence levels, and reduced my anxiety. For the first time I made the rules for myself, instead of having other do it for me.
I feel like as women sometimes we get sucked into doing things out of the sake of being a woman, and being surrounded by the patriarchal conventions. There’s also the dilemma of being a good daughter, mother, wife, sister, friend, etc. You want to do all you can for the people you love, or just because it’s expected. But the more you say no, and get comfortable doing it, you will seriously question as to why it took you so long. I know for myself I always felt the need to explain myself. But why? No one else did, when I first said no it was easier to say it when I provided a reason to my manager to let me go at my scheduled time that I was ENTITLED to. It was hard I will admit, as I knew how hard it was going to be for the few hours, that I left that shift and I truly felt bad for her. But sometimes you need to “teach people a lesson,” and you can’t feel bad about it. You need to put yourself first, because no one will.
However, reflecting back on this time, I ultimately didn’t say no for me. I said it for the well being or someone else. One thing I quickly changed, was that the next time I said no, I said no for myself. Because I don’t want to, or because I don’t have the time to do it.
Challenge yourself to say no more; to things that you truly don’t want to do or don’t have time to do and see what the outcomes are. You’ll be surprised at how much more you can do with your time when you are in control of it.
Time is precious and a limited resource—so spend yours wisely.