When i was a little girl, my mother worked absurd hours to keep food on the table. She was always on the brink of collapsing (and on a couple of occasions did). We had this amazing babysitter – a grandmother type figure who would come and pick us up from school, take us to soccer practice and otherwise help my mother out. She loved us and my mother was beyond thankful for her help. One day, my mother came home a complete mess. I don’t know exactly what prompted it but Mrs D looked at mom and said:
“Kathryn, you need to learn a new word. It starts with ‘n’ and it ends with ‘o’. The word is ‘no’!”
The memory of this tale used to always make me smile, but i never quite got it. Nowadays, i’m trying to learn the same lesson. Like my mother, i’m always excited about a new possibility, a new opportunity. But i’m definitely cracking under the weight of what i’ve committed to. There’s nothing that makes me feel more guilty than flaking, yet i flake because i’m avoiding a more fear-driven action: having to say no. I want to be involved in everything, i want to be helpful to everyone; i want to be social and a workaholic. Much to my dismay, i cannot take on anything more for a while so i’m trying to learn the lesson my mother tried to learn 15 years ago. Of course, i don’t think that my mother succeeded.
“Do not confuse ‘duty’ with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.
But there is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible. It is easier to deal with a footpad than it is with the leech who wants ‘just a few minutes of your time, please — this won’t take long.’ Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few. If you allow yourself to fall into the vice of agreeing to such requests, they quickly snowball to the point where these parasites will use up 100 percent of your time — and squawk for more!
So learn to say No – and to be rude about it when necessary. Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you.
(This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don’t do it because it is ‘expected’ of you.)” – robert heinlein
Thanks for this post! It reminded me that I need to cool it down a bit myself. I, too, allow myself to commit to too many things based on my desire to make everyone else’s life easier. Too often, though I get fed up with the stress of all this “serving others” and have fits of selfishness, which do absolutely no one any good.
Thanks again, and I enjoy your blog (which I found through benhellmann.com)
Personally, it helps me that every time I regrettably have to say “no” to someone, I’m simultaneouly saying “yes” to many others- myself included!
(BTW- thanks to the link to the ‘House of Fashion’ lyrics!)
boy that’s a juicy one for so many people I know. in most ways though, my circle of friends aren’t trying to feed their families as much as they’re just trying to do it all at once. a much better situation to be in here with our privileged lives. crazy that we end up in the same situation nonetheless!
‘No’? Such a work exists…. why wasn’t I told
This pattern sounds very familiar :). I have a similar habit of getting overcommitted and later losing steam. I think, when possible, it’s better to admit that you’ve taken on too much and try to divest yourself of some of your responsibilities — especially when it’s a question of voluntary committments. But then something new comes along and catches my interest.
Right now, I’m trying to take advantage of being in a new city where I only know a few people and am not involved in lots of projects and events to focus on my schoolwork… But I’m easily distracted.
My kids can say it. Why can’t I?
note: written 10/15 It’s been a busy week in an unusually busy season for our family. Between now and BloggerCon, our family calendar is crazy. (Posts may stop appearing for a while.) In an attempt to make life easier…