Issue #6: Just say no
No. Such a short word with such far-reaching consequences. For many women, this single syllable is one of the hardest to say. We don’t want to appear rude, difficult or selfish so we avoid ‘no.’ Instead, we make promises and compromises that often come at personal expense. At work we take calls during our vacations, at home we take on extra tasks and in our relationships we accept less than we should. It also means we’re doing less of what is important to us and distracted from our purpose.
There are times when we let others trample our boundaries because it seems like a good opportunity, packaged in what we think we want. Sometimes it’s a new dream job that promises flexibility, but soon demands so much of you that you’re working unacceptably long hours. You put up with it because your sense of worth has been placed in your work tasks and your ability to finish them, irrespective of how unrealistic that may be. In other scenarios, it could be a family member asking for a favour that you cannot afford, perhaps time or money.
Sometimes, being needed by a loved one supersedes how much you love yourself. All too often, saying no feels impossible. Why? Because so often, a girlhood need to please those around us becomes a grown woman who doesn’t want to cause an inconvenience to others. As with so many obstacles to women’s freedom, this is a socialised habit, deeply ingrained in us, but it can be unlearned.
We can’t draw boundaries when we don’t know what we’re protecting. To begin saying no, we all need to be clear about what we’re willing to say yes to. Knowing what you want and why you want it makes it easier to stand up for what you want and defend your boundaries. Saying no doesn’t have to be aggressive when it comes from a sense of self-awareness. Not everyone is going to like it, but you will, and you’ll like yourself more. Now, let’s all say it together, “NO!”
The award-winning American author Elizabeth Gilbert describes healthy boundaries as “simply a circle that you draw around something that is sacred. Then you safeguard that sacred thing that abides within that circle, and treat it as holy. And you get to decide what is sacred, what is sanctified. The sacred thing inside the circle can be your time, your creativity, your loved ones, your privacy, your recovery, your wellness, your heart and soul…a boundary is not a wall. It is not cruel or punitive.” And so a boundary is not something we put up to keep others out. Creating boundaries is more about taking the time to understand what is important to you and not being afraid of letting others know what is important to you. So consider whether your personal relationships are trampling on the sacred things in your circle or nourishing them. It may cause friction and unhappiness at first, but with kindness and patience you can establish boundaries and build closer and more open relationships.
Understanding that “no” is a complete sentence is probably hardest when you’ve been asked to lend or give money to a friend, colleague, family member, partner or even your children. And many times, there is an expectation that we should be helping our friends or families to alleviate financial pressure – whether it’s giving your parents a portion of your salary; paying for your sibling’s education; contributing towards household expenses. And so your money gets viewed in a communal way – something that your broader community should have access to and derive some benefit from because after all, it took a community effort to raise you. Negotiating and renegotiating healthy financial boundaries is a critical life skill! Having financial boundaries does not make you selfish, it actually means you’re being fiscally responsible.
When we create health and fitness goals, we go it alone. If we’re lucky, we have communities or accountability groups that help us along the way. Other times, our friends and family hold us back. It could be an extra cupcake at a colleague’s birthday, or encouraging you to skip an exercise class. In fact, studies show that friends can sabotage weight-loss goals because it could change your life and theirs. Sometimes, relationships are held together by bad habits and shaking those habits could shake those relationships. Drawing boundaries around your own needs could help you rebuild those relationships on a more solid foundation, and help you reach your goals.
Burnout has become so common that it is now officially recognised as an illness by the World Health Organisation. Burnout is defined as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” brought on by our increasingly demanding workplaces. Technology is blamed for much of our burden, but it goes deeper. What we do can become part of our identities and so we begin to value ourselves by our office KPIs instead of an internalised sense of self-worth. Drawing boundaries around work lives, and saying no, becomes very difficult because our tasks become so personal. While career success is important, it’s only one part of who you are. There are many other facets to who you are – so set boundaries.