Saying no

I am in a very good place right now. I’m basically writing full-time this spring, which I love. I’m happy to be involved in so many exciting writing projects with talented colleagues. I’m happy to be doing work that feels meaningful. I’m also happy that, at the moment at least, my professional life allows me the leeway and freedom to really be there for my kids and other loved ones when they need me.

Unfortunately despite all this freedom, or maybe because of it, I also feel a little tired because no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to replicate myself and be in many places at the same time. Nor do I have the magical powers of the likes of Hermione Granger to jump back and forth in time in order to maximize my potential (yes, I have been reading Harry Potter recently). This of course is unfortunate because I also seem to have trouble saying no. Or I think I at least need to get better at it.

This is somewhat ironic since I did opt out and I did manage to say no to a lifestyle that wasn’t working for me. But I have also found that although I have thought long and hard about what my terms are, how I want to work, how I want to live, and what I am and am not willing to give up, sometimes sticking to these terms, or even remembering them, can be difficult. And much of the time, I just get so excited by prospective collaboration, projects, and activities, that I sometimes forget what this really entails time wise. Though, to be honest, that does feel like a luxury problem.

But this issue of not being able to say no isn’t only a luxury problem. It’s also a cultural and societal phenomenon. According to Kevin Ashton, author of How to Fly a Horse – The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery, we are not taught to say no. Actually we are taught the opposite, to not say no, because no is rude, it is, and I quote, “a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. “No” is for drugs and strangers with candy.” However, according to Ashton, the most creative and successful people regularly say no, that’s what gives them time to be creative and successful.

Being taught never to say no is especially true for women and girls. As a girl, I remember being taught how important it is to be pleasant and agreeable. To the point where still today, as an adult and professional, I sometimes feel guilty and worry about disappointing people and letting them down. I go to great lengths to be diplomatic; it has become second nature. I’m sure this is a good trait, but it doesn’t help to be diplomatic in all situations. Especially if you’re trying to assert yourself and get the job done.

According to Gigi Durham, author of The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It, it gets even more complicated. Growing up, girls are taught not only to be agreeable, they are also taught to provide limitless emotional support to others without expecting anything in return. They are taught to attract boys and pay breathless attention to their needs, and as a result they don’t really have any authority to express their own needs and desires, which in turn places them in a submissive position in society.

Yup, that’s pretty bad. And completely at odds with what is expected when building a career. Not only do women have gender stereotypes, glass ceilings and what-not to overcome, they also have to rewire their brains and unlearn these deep-rooted socially taught behavioral patterns.

Well, I need only to look myself in the mirror, because I can definitely recognize this unhealthy ingrained need to be a ‘good girl’, and I also recognize that this is something that we need to shake because it really isn’t getting us anywhere. So to finish, I will simply say, here’s to saying no! Sometimes at least…

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