I used to strive constantly to be kind and helpful; however, this striving sometimes cost me my own happiness. Since I desperately wanted to be an amiable person, I tended to overcompensate and struggled to say “no.” With boundaries overstepped and after much physical and mental overexertion, I finally recognized the power of simply saying “no.”
Growing up, I was taught and expected to serve those around me in any way possible. From friends and family, whom I saw every day, to my greater community, I was always prepared to accommodate anyone who needed my help. Community service was the norm in my family. Nearly every week, we would volunteer at a new organization or do a favor for a family member or close friend. My upbringing introduced me to the importance of being kind and helpful, and I quickly fell in love with the feeling of being needed.
Because of this emphasis on service, I constantly searched for any way I could assist those around me. At that point, the word “no” wasn’t part of my vocabulary. The idea of refusing to help, no matter how small or large, was synonymous with being impolite. This association led to over-accommodation in situations when it was not at all necessary.
It started with small favors for my friends or classmates, but quickly progressed to extreme commitments. I first recognized my struggle with saying “no” after starting a part-time job and noticing how I interacted with my coworkers, especially when it came to covering others’ shifts. In the beginning, I felt the need to immediately drop any plans to cover anyone’s shift in order to create a good rapport between my coworkers and myself. Since I never said no, I quickly began to view my accommodation as an expectation. I missed out on many days of hanging out with my friends, relaxing or focusing on something other than my part-time job. Looking back, I now realize there is a fine line between having a reputation for being kind and being a pushover.
I eventually realized that my inability to say “no” to my coworkers was negatively impacting my life outside of work. For example, I remember staying up late finishing school work I had intended to finish on my day off but was forced to postpone by covering for someone else. I would also get into arguments with my friends after canceling plans because I put the needs of my coworkers above my own commitments. I dismissed my own responsibilities and relationships out of fear of the discomfort associated with saying “no.”
Recognizing the decline in my personal happiness and friendships forced me to reconsider my relationship with the word “no.” Rejecting someone in order to fulfill your own needs and responsibilities should never be something viewed as impolite or guilt-inducing.
That being said, I do still enjoy serving and being helpful, so I recognize in what situations I can say “yes” and when I need to say “no.” These decisions usually entail fully categorizing my needs and feelings to determine whether I can afford to say “yes.” I ask myself whether saying “yes” will negatively affect me more than it will positively affect others. However, I will not say “no” to something just because I don’t feel like doing it. I try to be certain that, when I agree to something, I am in a position to offer the best help possible.
I now understand that saying “no” does not make me any less kind or amiable. Rather, accepting that I can’t realistically always say “yes” has helped me recognize my own limits and boundaries. In necessary situations I am able to focus on my own needs before the needs of others, consequently benefiting my relationships with those around me and with myself. I no longer feel pressured to help whenever I am asked just to avoid being seen as impolite. Anyone who struggles with saying “no” should adjust their relationship with the word. There should never be guilt associated with saying “no.” Understanding your own limits and desires will help you become a happier and more helpful person. It is important to be kind and serve others, but it is always necessary to take time for yourself whenever possible.
Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.