Learning to say no, so I have time to say yes
March 27, 2002
A few weeks ago Paula Noah, a very fine lady from Tonopah and former president of the Silver State Reading Association called to ask me to (please) be vice-president next year.
You should know that the vice-presidency is merely the first step in a four-year forced march that includes planning the state conference as well as serving as president.
“No,” I said. “Thank you, but no.”
As much as I was flattered by the invitation, as much as I love the Reading Association, I also know the commitment of time and energy that this job would entail. And my heart just isn’t in it anymore. Perhaps I recognize that “fire in the belly” for what it is — not passion, but heartburn.
For years, just like Ado Annie in “Oklahoma,” my theme song has been “I Cain’t Say No.” Over the years I said “yes” to Girl Scouts, to PTA, to Safe Grad and the Craft Fair, the Rainbow Girls, to committee after committee related to school and literacy improvement.
Yes to my kids who needed a dress or birthday cake made. Yes to having the party here. I’ve been someone you could count on to get the job done. But you know what? I’m tired. And I don’t think I’m alone. I know there are women all over America who know exactly what I’m talking about.
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Dr. Mehmet Oz, noted cardiologist of the Presbyterian Hospital in New York, says that we women are especially bad at taking care of ourselves. We’re trained to put other people’s needs before our own. He also says that it’s killing us. Dr. Oz uses the human heart as a metaphor as he describes how it pumps blood to itself first before feeding the rest of the body.
Feeding myself first? Hmmm. I don’t think Dr. Oz means I should get the first chocolate chip cookie out of the oven, although that is a nice thought. He means that if I don’t take care of myself — physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically — I can never hope to take care of anyone else. And of course, I also run the risk of just being really cranky.
So consider this as public notice of my intent to say no more often. Not to everything, but to a lot. Here’s what I’m talking about, just in case someone asks.
I’ll say no to spending any more time with self-involved, complaining, bad-tempered, critical, difficult, unappreciative people than I absolutely have to. I’ll say yes to my husband and daughters, my parents, my friends — the people who would say yes to me.
I’ll say no to answering the phone when caller ID says “unknown caller.” I will however, say yes to long distance phone conversations with Joanna in New York and Linda in Idaho.
I’ll say no to committees and organizations that meet and meet but never move forward. I’ll still say yes to my Writers Group, book club, and projects that simply touch my heart.
I’ll say no to all the things on my to-do list that give me no joy or satisfaction. I’ll say yes to open spaces in my planner. Or a pedicure now and then. A massage.
I’ll say no to long-term commitments of my time and energy that take me away from my primary long-term commitments — my family, my friends, myself. I’ll say yes to wasting time now and then by dawdling over my e-mail, playing Spider Solitaire, or re-watching my “Moulin Rouge” DVD.
I’ll say no to beating a dead horse, to beating my head against a wall, and to beating myself up. I’ll say yes to a soak in the spa with my sweetheart.
I’ll say no to things that take me away from the things I want to say yes to, like reading or working on my scrapbooks for an entire afternoon even if the kitchen floor is really dirty.
I’ll say no to feeling guilty for not saying yes. I’ll extend to myself the same acceptance and a generosity of spirit I extend to others. And I’ll say yes to yearly check-ups with Dr. Koch, annual mammograms and watching what I eat.
I’ll say yes to buying and wearing underwear from Victoria’s Secret. I may be somebody’s mother, but damn it, I’m worth it. I will, however, say no to paying full price.
I’ll say no to second-guessing every decision I make. I’ll say yes to a nap more often, to Wet Sweat twice a week.
I’ll say no to building a resume and yes to balancing my life.
And by saying no to being the chairwoman, the president of anything, I’ll be saying yes to giving someone else the opportunity to lead.
Finally, I’ll say no to burning my candle at both ends and yes to a good night’s sleep and to passing the torch.
My husband would say, “It’s about time.”
Lorie Smith Schaefer and her husband have lived in Carson City for nearly twenty-five years. Lorie is a reading specialist at Seeliger Elementary School where she will continue to say yes to doing better at teaching children to read and to supporting her colleagues who are trying to do the same.
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