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The Lost Art of No

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It’s often our first word. We learn how to use it often and with abandon.

We wish our toddlers and preschoolers wouldn’t say it.
We hope our teenagers do.

We grow up and forget how to use it.

We think saying it makes us weak.

(stock photo by lusi)

We somehow correlate it with disappointment.
We don’t want to be impolite.
We don’t think anyone else will do what needs to be done, so we justify not saying it.
We think not saying it will make everyone happy.

Deep down, we all know it’s impossible to make everyone happy, but we’re capable of anything.
And everything.
So, we don’t care.
And we don’t say it.

We think if we don’t say it, we’ll have more power.
We group it together with other things we don’t want to leave on the table.
Leaving things on the table is unacceptable when success is at stake.

Don’t take no as an answer, but giving it as one could kill the possibilities.
We say yes to the possibilities.
We say yes to power.
We say yes to too much.

And, by doing that we silently say no to ourselves.

What we really need to do is travel back in time to when we weren’t afraid to say it.
We were expected to say it. We were encouraged to say it.
We need to summon our inner child and shout it out loud.

Whether or not you stomp your foot for added effect is up to you.

Have you lost the art of saying no?

Author: JoAnn

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  • comment avatar Ratna April 13, 2011

    wow. So true. Well written. My younger one says NO all the time. I need to take her cue.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson April 13, 2011

    Who knew “no” could be so strangely poetic. 🙂

    Honestly up until last year, I was a “yes” woman until I decided I just couldn’t do everything at once. Now, I consider myself a priority woman. Sometimes it involves “yes,” sometimes it involves “no.” Whatever guilt from the latter is quickly replaced by peace of knowing I’m doing what’s best for me!

  • comment avatar Jaime Swartzendruber April 13, 2011

    It’s a challenge. I need to be more of a priority woman.

  • comment avatar Gretchen White April 13, 2011

    Priority Woman is who I aim to be.

    When my older children were younger, I thought I had to volunteer for everything. I was a MOPS small group leader, room mother for my daughter’s 2nd grade class and my oldest son’s preschool class, did FREE graphic art work and publicity for the preschool, helped plans events, helped with Brownies, etc…

    And then I burned out and did nothing for a few years. I went into Leave Me Alone mode. People stopped asking. I don’t want to be that woman, either.

  • comment avatar JoAnn April 13, 2011

    Ratna: Thanks!!

    Amber: I think I go in cycles. I’ll get really vigilant about saying ‘no’ and then slowly start saying yes to everything. It’s like the proverbial frog in the pot of water. Toss him into a boiling pot and he’ll just out. Toss him in lukewarm and slowly raise the heat, and he’ll think the tiny bubbles forming around him are fascinating. 😉

    Jaime: I like the analogy of juggling balls. Some balls are rubber and can bounce. Just make sure to catch the ones made of glass. 😉

  • comment avatar JoAnn April 13, 2011

    Gretchen, that’s so true! My goal is to be just involved enough to make a difference without taking over whatever project it is. Okay, those of you who know me can stop laughing RIGHT NOW…I mean it this time. 😉

  • comment avatar Susan April 13, 2011

    JoAnn – great post and well said. I don’t want to say no all of the time, but I don’t want to say yes always either. It’s a tough balance to make. I have been focused this year on quality vs quantity and like Gretchen, I’ve said yes to a lot. Now, I’m working on protecting my valuable time and family by being more picky in what I say yes to.

  • comment avatar JoAnn April 13, 2011

    Thanks, Susan! It would be so much easier to figure out if everything was easily categorized as quality and quantity. Some things are so interconnected that it can be quite a challenge. It sounds like you’re well on your way to mastering it!

  • comment avatar Daria April 13, 2011

    I have slowly relearned the art of saying No. I no longer volunteer with PTA because I wasn’t getting anything out of it and it took time away from other things that I did see rewards from. I don’t volunteer to be the social coordinator for our work because it’s too much effort and I’d rather spend my time on other things. Although I WILL attend the event.

    Do I feel guilty? Yes. I feel guilty I’m not active in PTA any more or that I don’t volunteer to be the team mom. Why? Because I feel some strange need to be superwoman and do it all? I don’t know why, but I do know my family and I am happier when I’m less stressed and able to just enjoy the moment instead of always being 10 steps ahead in my brain because it’s the only way to keep up.

    Great post!

  • comment avatar Matthew April 13, 2011

    The art of saying “no” is central to the practice of CONSERVING your life energy resources. It has been said, that if you can’t say “no” you can’t say “yes”. Learning the art of personal Life-Energy Conservation includes setting and maintaining good boundaries. It is central to the art of living wellness, and essential for busy Moms… and Dad’s for that matter, for everyone. We teach people how to cultivate this vital skill through meditation, movement and touch therapies. Glad to hear this wisdom getting out there.
    Matthew at

  • comment avatar Lisa Vratny-Smith April 13, 2011

    Well said, JoAnn. It always comes back to balance. 🙂

  • comment avatar Catherine April 16, 2011

    I think I go through phases. Although, my no phases always seem to follow long periods of saying yes yes yes. I need to get better at balancing the two.

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