The Fine Art of Saying No: It’s Time to Reassess, Release and Renew

I need to be with myself and center; clarity, peace, serenity… ~ Fergie

It's the holiday season. Requests are coming in – requests for your time, your money, and your energy. Can you make another pie for the bake sale? Can you donate to your favorite charity or help stuff the bus? Can you sit in on this one committee meeting for me? Could you take my kids to school today, as I'm sick? You don't mind sewing a costume tonight for your daughter’s pageant, do you? Honey, I volunteered you to make the Christmas meal for the whole family; you don't mind, do you?  

The holidays are a perfect reason to be grateful for what we have, to give, and to receive. But let me tell you a secret: you don't have to do it all. Yet when there are so many demands on our time, it can be difficult to say no. I think it's the way many of us were raised: to be people pleasers, yes women, get-it-done girls.

But at what expense? Often times we sacrifice our own sanity and self-care in order to be of service to others. Yet, how can we really be of service to others if we can't be of service to ourselves? You cannot serve from a depleted place.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite Byron Katie sayings. She meant it in the context of deciding when to speak and went to say silent, but I think it could still be used here, with some minor modifications. Before speaking, she urges us to consider the following questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

Taken in context of deciding when to speak our truth, it makes perfect sense. But I think it could also work when applied to making decisions for ourselves and assessing when to say yes and when to say no: Is it true that no one else could do it? Is it kind to ourselves to say yes to yet another obligation that we may not really want to do in the first place? Is it really necessary for us to be the one to do it? I would add to that: do I really even want to do this?

Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it for me?

This semester has been one of the most difficult in my 20 years in academia and I have found myself using this very philosophy recently. I was faced with a tough decision of whether or not to continue with a role I was tasked with at the beginning of the semester. At the time I agreed to take on the role, I was assured that it wouldn’t take more than 1-2 hours a week. The reality was closer to 5-10 hours a week. It was more than I bargained for and I found myself growing increasingly resentful.

I reached out to a friend and shared my dilemma with her. She passed on some words of advice that fell right in alignment with my own inner conflict: I think you need to examine why you feel inclined to stay? Is it fulfilling to you personally, or do you feel like they need you? They will be okay if you leave… Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it for me?

I ultimately decided that it wasn’t a fit for me anymore and put in my resignation. It was a tough decision, but I know it was the best decision for me – and for the organization I was involved with.

This is the perfect time of year to reassess what’s on your plate – figure out what’s for you and what isn’t – so that, moving forward into the New Year, you can do so with clarity and from a place of renewal, not depletion.

Make some time for you in the coming weeks to truly assess all of your current obligations and decide for each: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it for me?


  • Peggy says:

    For me it comes down to something even simpler – is this something I want to do? I learned a long time ago that saying Yes when we really mean No is a recipe for resentment. And the one thing I don’t do anymore is send out Christmas cards 🙂

    • Dr Mary Pritchard says:

      That’s great advice, Peggy! I like your question: simple and to the point. And I too stopped sending out Christmas cards years ago. 🙂

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