I struggle to say 'no' to things. I often overcommit, and double book myself, and I'll do almost anything to avoid conflict and humiliation. I think lots of people are just like me when it comes to having a fear of disappointing people.
I've always been a 'yes' man. I dislike pessimistic attitudes of people who are never willing to do anything, or have lame excuses for avoiding events. I love being busy with stuff to do so saying yes comes naturally. The movie Yes Man, starring Jim Carrey, was no revelation to me: it's great saying yes, but not so great when you are over-committed.
Saying yes to everything can strip you of the best version of yourself. Life is full of essential and often uncomfortable nos. If I say yes to a job here, it's no to a job there. If I say yes to these shoes, it's no to dinner out later. If it's yes to focus, it's no to looking at my phone. If it's a yes to marrying an amazing girl you love, it's no to freedom (kidding).
Saying yes will mean compromise in other areas, and people like me want to do everything, we hate letting people down.
The root of the problem
As a kid I remember lying to get out of trouble, because I didn't want to own my mistake. I imagined the trouble I would get in and the disappointment I would be. Some personalities are less confrontational. Some cultural norms have led me to believe that being helpful and giving is always right, even if it means overextending yourself.
I struggle with the idea that I must be liked by everyone: that my worth is in what others think of me. I want to win approval, and I've lived a lie where I believe everyone should like me.
If I say yes to two events that clash, sometimes I'll leave one early and am late to the other, offending everyone. My fear of disappointment comes full circle. Or I avoid the problem altogether, by not saying either yes or no.
Avoiding confrontation, lying and saying yes out of obligation all leads to a lifetime of pain and mismanaged emotions. It's impossible to make everyone like you.
Champion tennis player Roger Federer is a gentleman of the game! He's one of the most loved tennis players of all time: calm under pressure, a family man, and a crowd favourite! But even Federer has plenty of critics and opponents who don't like him.
Our well-meaning Christian culture has taught us to serve, to help when we can, but we twist it from true service into self-service. Being liked by others is our validation, our prize, our identity. We end up being Martha in the kitchen missing out on what is better.
Serving out of obligation isn't what Jesus calls us to do. He wants us to own our decisions, to let our yes be yes, and no be a no. He wants us to find validation and identity in him—not in the approval of others.
The art of saying no
I did it, I said no, and it hurt.
I knew it was coming—I had to assert myself and kindly refuse to do an 'optional' task in my spare time at work. I knew the colleague asking me would get annoyed but I had to say no to the request, and I was expecting fireworks.
The thought of the ensuing confrontation was almost unbearable, but I did it. I didn't have an excuse, I just said no. It felt like a lifetime of waiting for the tension to clear, was I going to be hated or humiliated? Would word of my stubbornness be talked about around the office?
The person was disappointed, but, I survived. Since then, it's been a little easier to say no. I still like to be a peace maker, I'm still as helpful as I can be within reason, but saying no isn't the end of the world.
Where's the balance?
Little kids know when to say no. Discern when you need to say no, which is often when you're overcommitted already, and in need of a break.
When we let go of the belief that everyone must like us, we are released from the burden of always saying yes. We have the freedom to say yes joyfully in service of others, and the freedom of saying no without guilt.
Owning your yes is important. Take responsibility and have integrity when it comes to commitments: you will need to say no to maintain your commitment to the important yeses.
Recently, I was asked to go out for dinner with some friends from work. There was a deal at a local restaurant for $4.50 pizzas! I could have eaten three, but I took ownership of my choice.
I said no. And I lived to tell the tale.
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at Rhema Media in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html