We live in a culture that encourages us to always say yes. Yes to our boss. Yes to our partner. Yes to the salesman. But, does it encourage us to say yes to ourselves. In the United States, you are valued for how hard you work. If your boss asks you to take on an extra project, you better say yes. If your boss asks you to work overtime without pay, because you are on salary, you better say yes. If a friend asks you for help moving, it is rude if you don’t say yes. We live in a world of yes, when at the same time we are saying no to ourselves.
When was the last time you didn’t work through your lunch? When was your last vacation? When was the last time you said no to anyone else, but you? When I was growing up, I never wanted to let anyone down. I wanted everyone to like me. So, I always said yes. If a friend needed me to get up super early and pick them up from the airport, I said yes. If my coworker asked for help on a project, I said yes. If my boss asked me to work on my day off, I said yes. In interviews, when I was asked what was my biggest flaw, I would say, “I don’t know how to say no.” They of course loved this. Employers love when you’re a yes person, because they can get you to do anything for them even if it is at the expense of yourself.
In high school and college, I rarely missed a day due to sickness. I felt too guilty staying home to take care of myself. Now, in the working world I’m the same way. I once went to work with walking pneumonia and convinced myself I was fine. My mom has always begged me to promise I will take care of myself. I often agreed, but never really followed through. I hated canceling plans on people, because that is not the kind of friend I want to be, even if it makes me stressed. If a partner needed something from me or of me, I always said yes.
As a result, I let people walk all over me. They knew they could depend on me, but I often times found them not returning the favor if I asked. I gave my everything to past partners, asking nothing in return. Every time I said yes to anyone, it was a big fat NO to me. No to my health. No to my time. No to my happiness. No to me! Until, I realized one day that if I continued saying yes to everyone but myself, I wouldn’t have much of me left to give.
It is important to be reliable and help out a friend. It is great if you can work hard and show your boss that you deserve that raise. The problem is, if you continue to say yes to everyone but you, then you wake up one day to find that you have nothing left to give. You are the one that suffers. My mom always told me that you cannot pour from an empty cup. You have to fill yourself up first, if you are going to give to others.
So, I started saying no, when I knew saying yes would take something away from me. I told a coworker that I couldn’t help her anymore with her project, because it left me no time to do my own projects. I told my boss I can’t work 60 hours a week without extra pay and time to relax. I told my friends, I can’t hang out during the week, because I need my rest. I told my partner, I can’t cook dinner every night. It felt empowering to say no!
Then, I started saying yes to myself. I said yes to exercising more instead of working extra. I said yes to making time for cooking healthy meals. I said yes to taking more time for myself. I said yes to vacations and travel. I said yes to adventure. I said yes to being loved and treated right. I said yes to taking care of myself when I got sick. I said yes to me! I said, “yes, Melissa you deserve it!”
Now, I don’t find myself having nearly as many nervous breakdowns over my commitments to everything but myself. I don’t spend sleepless nights stressing about all the things I said yes to, but don’t have the time to complete. I smile more. I am in a happy, healthy relationship that is equally balanced. I’m planning to travel the world with my partner for a year instead of working until I die. I’m healthy and make way less trips to the doctors. I’m happy that I said yes to me!
You can do it too. Stop thinking you are obligated to say yes to everyone and everything. When someone asks if you can do something, don’t respond immediately. Tell them you will think about it and get back to them. Then take the time to look at your own schedule and include time for just you to relax and then make an informed decision whether you can really feasibly help them or not without harming yourself. It is okay to say no, even if you aren’t busy, but you know you need that time to recuperate from the week. It is okay to say no! Repeat that a hundred times over. Then tell yourself, it is not okay to say no to yourself, unless of course it is to eat a second cupcake, then you can say no.
It is not selfish to value your own health and sanity over anyone else’. You can be a supportive friend and hard worker without over expending yourself. I found myself getting bitter towards my work and my friends, when I found myself going out of the way to help them and not getting that same response in return. I realized they weren’t to blame. I was to blame, for not taking my own needs into consideration first and for expecting them to do the same. We can all help each other, but first we must help ourselves. You don’t always have to say no, if you have the time and energy of course say yes. Just don’t make that your default answer. People will respect you more for looking out for yourself a little more and not being a welcoming mat. I sure am glad to not be lying in front of that door anymore.
So, value yourself and start saying yes to your own happiness and then others will value you even more. If people can’t handle you saying no, they didn’t care about you in the first place and they don’t deserve your energy anyway. In the end, you are all you’ve got, so you better take care of the most important person first: YOU!