“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly
and not saying no soon enough.” ~ Josh Billings
You won’t ever really say yes to those things, people, and experiences you want in life, if you do not learn to say no to those things, people, and experiences that drain you. As women, we tend to make this error in judgment early and often. We want to be nice. We don’t want to disappoint anyone. As a result, we agree to things that we don’t want to do, simply because saying yes is easier than saying no. We think this forges our character and makes us a selfless, uber-giving individual. In fact, it just makes us suppress the things we want out of life in favor of keeping others comfortable and content. Like doormats, we invite them to walk all over us. “It’s OK. Don’t mind me. I enjoy the view from down here.”
Unfortunately, this sabotage of our personal boundaries will come back and bite us in the ass big time. We will get sick. We will get voraciously angry. We will waste our chance to do what we came here to do. If we do not learn that saying no is our right, our responsibility, and a true sign of a healthy relationship with ourselves (and others), we will forever be making excuses for why we are stressed, depressed, over-worked, and over-committed.
A person who has trouble saying no, will also have trouble definitively saying yes. And the juice of life is contained in all of those yes moments.
I’ve been thinking about setting healthier boundaries this week, particularly when it comes to my work as a teacher. I have a strong tendency to over-give to my students. I do things like answer e-mail at all hours of the day and night. I send out reminders to my students to make sure they do their assigned work, even though the course calendar already mentions when every single thing is due. I invite them to call me on the days that I do not have office hours. I spend more time correcting their papers than they spent writing them.
This tendency is smothering my ability to have any sort of life outside of work. And it is not a healthy way to live. At all.
Cheryl Richardson, author of Take Time for Your Life and The Extreme Art of Self-Care, labels selflessness as a kind of negative spiral that turns in on itself. Although many women feel something akin to moral superiority for this sort of behavior, they are not the ones we should take as our role models. Someone with healthy boundaries takes care of themselves, body, mind, and spirit. They take down time. They remember to eat. They don’t let their laundry pile up to the point that it is easier to go to the store and buy new underwear than deal with the mountain range of laundry they’ve thrown on the floor in the guest room closet.
I speak from experience.
My tendency to care take those I am close to, even when doing so is detrimental to my mental or physical health, is a quality in me that needs to change. I am the point now that I can no longer push myself that hard. There are things I want to say yes to, that I want to make room for — but I must let go of my need to be the perfect teacher — to see that happen. I need time for a physical and spiritual relationship with a man. I need the silence and solitude required to build my career as a writer and poet. My artistic work is incredibly important to me, but instead of focusing on it, instead of clearing and scheduling time for it, I sit in front of the TV or I obsessively monitor my email. Rather than saying yes to things that I don’t want to do, I must learn to tactfully say no thanks to anything that doesn’t contribute to furthering my goals as a writer and a spiritual woman.
Carving out Sabbath Time.
One of the first things I plan to do is set boundaries about working on Saturday or Sunday each week. The weekends need to be my time. I need time to write, time to work on several of my unfinished manuscripts, time to send query letters, submit work, and fill the well, as Julia Cameron reminds us in her book, The Artist’s Way. As a teacher, I’ve worked seven days a week for the past decade. That’s insane. That is completely insane. I don’t know why it never occurred to me how deeply unhealthy that was. Although I love teaching to the marrow of my bones, I must draw a line at the edge of the week, and truly start to make room for other things I would like to see flower in my life.
Interestingly, my mom is going through a similar awakening right now. I have a feeling that many of us are experiencing these sorts of realizations as the world changes and shifts under our feet. It is time to do what we came here to do. Teaching is only one aspect of my life’s work this time around. I must also write. I must also publish. To mentor other writers while not caring for my own writing life is the worst sort of betrayal. I was born to do both.
Anything less means I’ve wasted my time.
Before death takes away what you are given,
give away what is there to give.
No dead person grieves for his death.
He mourns only what he didn’t do.
Why did I wait?
Why did I not … ?
Why did I neglect to … ?
I cannot think of better advice to send.
I hope you like it.
May you stay in your infinity.
Peace ~ Rumi
© 2013 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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