“No is a complete sentence.” – Anne Lamott
“Hey, are you coming to the mason jar party on Saturday?” My colleague popped her head into my office.
It took me a second to realize she wasn’t talking about checking out that new bar that serves irresistibly overpriced cocktails in everyone’s favourite glass receptacle. She was referring to the email our team’s secretary circulated the day before. Inspired by a Pepsi-fueled evening of web-surfing, she suggested we all get together at her place this weekend to quarter cherry tomatoes, crumble Feta and sprinkle chia seeds in perfect layers – an en masse mass production line of healthy lunch preparation if you will.
“Uh…umm…well…no, I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it.” I mumbled, cursing my nemesis Pinterest, repository of edible bath bomb recipes and zero footprint holiday crafts, for having suggested yet another activity that highlighted my failings to keep up as a modern woman.
It’s not that I didn’t think it was a super fun idea- a group of women getting together to giggle and gab as they chop veggies and prepare for the week ahead. Sounded like a great time and hey, the idea of sharing ingredients to proactively ensure some healthy work-week dining was both logical and economic. I could also hear the last crumbs of unstructured weekend chillax time being swallowed up by yet another unplanned commitment. And where the heck was I going to find 5 empty mason jars to bring? That was a lot of spaghetti sauce to consume in 48 hours. And so I sheepishly uttered, “No.”
Improv teaches us to say “Yes! AND” to all offers because every offer is an opportunity to build on and you never knew where one might lead you. But Improv, like Pinterest can sometimes lead us down a dangerous path (likely one lined with homemade glitter meditation bottles and votive holders decorated with dried legumes. Seriously, does no one just use mason jars for pickles anymore?)
If you don’t have clear boundaries you can’t be truly generous.
My pledge to “Yes! AND” often had me not only carping Diem but cursing Dios when I’d get so caught up in commitments that none were sustainable and my engagement withered. Until my energy was so drained that those very endeavours that used to give me pleasure became objects of resentment. Survival led me to the art of “No”.
I used to do a better job of bundling my “No” in a gentle coating to soften its impact. “Oh wow, what a great idea! I would have loved to but… (Insert feeble implausible excuse here.)”
Or I’d duck under the cover of humor, “What’s that? A week of exotic salads? They’re going to have to hand out a ‘Most Regular Team’ award at the company picnic!”
Sometimes “No” is pretty easy. The lack of cranberries and roughage in my lunch box is of little real consequence to me and if I take a pass on a skiing invite no one’s going to even notice (save the ski-patrol who might thank me for giving them a break.)
But when the “No” comes with a price, it can be harder to spit out. When you know it comes with a loss of potential career opportunities, of friendships, or of status it can sting. It can feel selfish when the “No” is to a promotion because you know deep down the higher paycheck could never erase the unhealthy stress level or compromising of values. It can be confusing when you’re dangerously swept up in flattery and wonder if maybe you should really write that book because wasn’t that something you always wanted to do?
And when others are saying “Yes”, uttering your “No” can be heart wrenching. The green eyed tentacles of envy keep pulling us toward what we want and away from what we are or deserve. Can letting go of things we really do love, of things we feel give our lives meaning be downright torturous? Yes! AND it opens up the way to get us where we need to be, to receive the offers that really matter.
As your “No”s get more confident, your “Yes”s get louder.
Once you try it, the path of “No” is a delightfully slippery slope. Increasingly the “No”s are easier to serve up, sometimes still on a bun of guilt or Fear Of Missing Out but as you wait for the sounds of the world crashing down you can be surprised instead by the calm silence through which you begin to hear whispers of “Yes”.
And the clearer the “No”s, the louder and more focussed the “Yes”s until the very opportunities you worried you’d miss begin to show themselves in full light unobscured by inconsequential clutter.
Monday in the lunchroom, when I saw the girls victoriously shaking their pretty jars with their rainbow-coloured contents, I wondered for a fleeting moment if I should have made more of an effort to be part of the group.
But as I peeled open my recycled margarine container of leftover pasta I knew that if my mouth weren’t so full of cold penne pesto my answer would be a deliciously sweet “No.”
About the author: Social Worker and Certified Humor Professional (CHP), Maia Aziz, works as Assistant Chief of Allied Health Services at The Montreal Children’s Hospital and hosts the weekly talk radio show Morning Moments with Maia through which she explores applications of humor and positive psychology in leadership and well-being with loveandlaughter.ca