This year, why not learn about the strength of saying ‘no’
I’m a yes person.
This fact is baked into my very bones, so much a part of who I am that my friends know that if they need a devoted wing woman, or an early-morning coffee date, or someone to help them sift through the detritus of their overstuffed spice rack/designer shoe collection/bookshelves, I’m the girl to call. I say yes to almost everything. Or rather, I say yes to everything that it is reasonable and safe to say yes to. I say yes to a slice of coconut cake. I say yes to tequila shots. I say yes to crashing that house party at your cousin’s ex girlfriend’s colleague’s next door neighbour’s house.
2018 was my year of saying yes. I moved from Australia to the UK and began working as a freelance writer, which necessitated saying yes to every piece of work that crossed my desk. I said yes to things in my personal life, too. I said yes to going to parties where I knew no-one so that I could meet, well, someone. On assignment in Finland on a private island flung into the middle of the Baltic sea, I said yes to jumping on a ferry to Estonia with a bunch of people I barely knew and had one of the strangest nights of my life, an evening that involved a parrot, a set of missing keys and an impromptu swing dance performance at three in the morning.
If 2018 was a wine, I would hold my glass right up to my nose and declare that it was a good year. But it was also a tiring one. All those yeses stacked right up against each other, weighing down on me. Each one brought a new experience -- some good, some bad, some very, very ugly -- but it also added something else to the balance sheet, too.
Which is why my resolution for 2019 is to say no.
By that, I mean I want to learn how to prioritise in 2019. I want to understand the power of saying no in circumstances when you don’t need to say yes.
This year I want to be able to be present in the moment, rather than pulled in a million different directions by a million different yeses. I want to do less of the work that I feel that I have to do, for whatever reason, and focus on the work that I want to do, in the hope that I give myself over to that work, devote time and energy to it, and in doing so get better at it. Rather than saying yes for the sake of saying yes -- that is, saying yes for the sake of the experience -- I want to say yes because I really mean it. I don’t want to go to a party just because I feel like I have to go to it. I don’t want to force myself to read the book that everyone is talking about, but that I find dull.
I’m not going to say no to everything, just to be clear. I still want to move through this year with the openness that I had in 2018, the sense that anything was possible, and it was possible right now. But I want to be a little bit selfish too. I don’t want to burn the candle from all of its ends only to find that there’s nothing left of 2019 that’s just for me.
I spent the first week of the new year with some of my oldest, dearest school friends at the wedding of one of our own. The night before the party the maid of honour and I -- friends since we were preposterously cute three year olds in Laura Ashley dresses and bob cuts -- caught up over pizza and a bottle of wine.
She asked me what my New Year’s resolution was, and I told her that I wanted to spend 2019 saying no. But then I voiced my fear that this resolution would undo all of the good work of 2018, a year I spent nudging my boundaries as far as I could, and peeking over the edge to see what was there. Was I making a huge mistake? Would I spend this year saying no and wind up more miserable and exhausted and lonely at the end of 2019 than I had ever been?
But she shook her head. “Maybe by saying no to some things you’ll be able to say yes to the things that really matter,” she ventured. And she’s right. The point of learning to say no isn’t to shut yourself off from everything you could be saying yes to. It’s about -- finally -- learning to prioritise. Because when you start saying no, you begin to understand the power of saying yes.