Learning to Say "No"

Guest Contributor: Marieke vanErven

Hi everyone! My name is Marieke, and I am a 21-year-old college student who also works 35 hours a week. I know, I might be a bit crazy, but that crazy inspired today's blog post. Check it out and feel free to call me a hypocrite at the end.

Anyone who knows me that is reading this is probably already having a good laugh based off of the title. They are all thinking about that list of things I told them I was working through earlier and thinking I may actually be a little bit crazy for writing something like this. But, here’s the thing, sometimes the best way to force yourself into doing something, is to share that you’re doing it with others. There’s a small piece of accountability there. So, one must learn to say “no.” I will be the first to admit, I am terrible at this. TERRIBLE I tell you. I am always the one there to pick up the pieces and fix whatever needs fixing. I am always the one there to help with whatever needs done. I am always the one there when someone says they might even possibly need something. And let me tell you all, as much as I love it (and I truly do), it’s exhausting and sometimes I put my health and wellness on the back-burner to be there for everyone else. This is bad… Let me say it again for anyone who is still laughing at the thought of me saying no… Putting your health and wellness on the back-burner for others, IS BAD. Let me give you all a deeper peak into my life so you know exactly why saying “no” is becoming so important for me… I work 35 hours a week, and I have 5 college courses. On top of this, I commute an hour to work each way, an hour from work to school, and an hour home with classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On top of school and work, I dog sit, babysit, and pick up shifts at an old second job occasionally. I am bad at taking time for myself, and recently, I have realized how important it actually is.

I’m sure you’re wondering why I am sitting here telling you to say “no” if I may not even be capable of doing it myself... and honestly… you raise a great question. Here’s my answer: say no because you want more time for yourself. Be selfish. Use this time to work towards your dreams and aspirations. Use this time to go out and do something fun. Use this time to go grab a cup of coffee and pastry from your favorite cafĂ©. Do anything with this time that serves you. We spend hours upon hours a week working towards someone else’s dreams. If you aren’t self-employed, you’re guilty of this. I am too. I’m raising my hand right here, I am 100% guilty. So, if someone asks you to go out and do something you don’t actually want to do this weekend, say no. Spend that time on yourself. If someone asks you to pick up an extra shift at work and you don’t necessarily need the money to survive this week and know you will be in an awful mood the entire time you’re there, say no. You have the right to say no, and you deserve to say no when it comes to protecting your time and your space. Saying no doesn’t mean you won’t ever go back and do that thing or spend that time with someone, it just means you’re prioritizing yourself.

You’re afraid of letting someone down if you tell them no when they ask. Here’s the thing, I’ve spent countless hours grumbling to myself about something I’m doing because I struggle with saying no. I don’t want to disappoint others, and I am so fiercely loyal, that it is actually difficult to say no. I speak from experience when I tell you that everyone in the situation probably would’ve been better off if I had just said no from the beginning. Coworkers don’t want to be around you when you’re grumpy because you’re working an extra shift that you didn’t actually want. Friends aren’t going to have a good time if you drug yourself out of the house and don’t actually want to be at the social function you’re currently at. Your parents don’t want to sit across the table at the restaurant you’re at and watch you with a sour mood the entire time because you were busy but put everything off to have lunch with them and you don’t want to be there. Just say no when the original offer is made, give other options, but choose yourself. You do deserve to do this!

Be intentional with your time, saying no and spending your day in bed isn’t always the right answer. If you want to help someone with something but the time they’ve suggested isn’t a good fit for you, suggest another option. Saying no doesn’t mean it’s a permanent no for the rest of eternity. It just means you know you’ve already booked yourself up too much for Saturday morning and need to be able to have a breather between cleaning the apartment and meeting with your study group. Give yourself the space you need, be intentional, and take care of yourself before taking care of others. But be mindful of how you are taking care of yourself. Don’t let yourself slip into bad habits. Don’t let yourself stay in bed all day, day after day. Be intentional and put your mental health first, but don’t jeopardize it in trying to help yourself. It’s a balance, and one that takes a lot of intention to perfect.

Sometimes saying no can lead to some of the best things for yourself. I recently said no to a lunch date with a friend. I took that time to drive up to the mountains and soak up some of the fall air. I needed the time alone, and if I hadn’t said no, I wouldn’t have gotten it. We scheduled lunch for later that week, but saying no to the original offer was necessary and had a big payoff. I used this time to take care of myself, but also something that required me to be active so I didn’t sit inside in front of a screen otherwise. This time for myself in saying no still required me to push myself to get out and do something that really took care of myself.

Now, just so we are clear, there are boundaries here. Don’t say no to things that actually require you doing them. Don’t say no to writing that paper that’s due in less than 24 hours because you want to watch your favorite TV series for the fifth time. And don’t say no after you’ve committed leaving someone short staffed or empty handed. Take care of yourself, but not at the expense of something you’ve already committed to. It’s also important to note that there is an art to saying no. Be respectful, have a positive attitude about it, but don’t allow yourself to be swayed out of your decision either. 

Learn to say no. Start with something small that you don’t want to do and won’t benefit you if you do it. Then, say no to something that will make more of an impact in your life. For me, that means turning down some dog sitting jobs so I can actually spend some time at home instead of living out of a gym bag while I go from house to house taking care of others dogs. Now, don’t get me wrong here. I LOVE dog sitting, and I’m not going to stop, just limit how often I am available to others. Paying for an apartment and living in it maybe two days a month means I’m not spending time on myself and doing the things I need to. Find the things that are most meaningful to you and how they really impact your life. Focus on these things. Take care of yourself, and start to watch yourself grow.