The Default No: Making Time For The Right Yes

I drop off and pick up my two youngest kids most days now. It's one of the perks of being my own boss and one of the things I missed most when I was working full time outside the home.

During pick up, it's not uncommon for my 9 year old to tell me which of her friends' parents have volunteered in the classroom that day. I'm grateful that there are parents who are passionately engaged in supporting the school, but the announcement always ends with the same question from my daughter. 

"How come you don't volunteer in my classroom?"

Now, to be clear what she wants is for me to be a room mom. She wants me helping with copies, being there for reading assignments and just being a consistent presence in the building. I totally get why she wants it too. In addition to it still being cool to be around your mom at 9, her love language is quality time. She also knows that I work well with children and thinks it would be a good fit for me.

But my answer is still generally no. 

Now of course I do help from time to time. Field trips, class parties, special occasions and such. I even randomly stop by for lunch, or after school clubs.  But I haven't felt compelled to give her school district guaranteed free hours each week, so I stick with my default no. 

For me, my default answer to any demand of my time or energy is no. I don't always say the word no exactly, but mentally, I always assume there's a good reason not to do what is asked of me.

As a woman, a wife, and a mother, there are automatically 5 people in my life, who will typically request things of me on any given day.  Add in clients, extended family and such and the list goes on. With church and community obligations, there are literally dozens of things that I could give my time and attention to on any given day. None of those requests have anything to do with my own personal to-do list or the space I choose to leave in my day to be led by God to do special things for others. 

And the truth is, I only have 24 hours in my day. You too. Some of which has to be used for sleep and some which I choose to use for rest. And what that means is any request has to proove it's value in my life, before I am willing to say yes to it.

When I first became an entrepreneur, I read a blog by a fellow self-employed professional who swore by avoiding answering emails until the middle of the day.  His reason? Emails are typically other people's to-do lists for you, you have to invest your first energy of the day into your own to-do list. Most of us, save rest or pleasurable activities for whatever time we have left. We weren't designed to be that way. Our bodies were created to have periods of rest, and the constant go go go, is dangerous mentally and physically, so I switched my automatic yes, to a no and never looked back.

It hasn't always been this way for me.  There was a time, like when I was first staying home with my youngest two, where I felt guilty because other people were earning money or had more tangible ways of explaining what they had done for 8 hours during the day.  I felt, since I wasn't going to "work", I was supposed to be doing something. Even though staying home was a completely conscious decision, it was amazing how quickly I denied the value of my time being home. Soon I was finding part time jobs, volunteering at the PTO, offering to help friends and family with anything that sounded even slightly like they needed assistance. 

Did I mention I was also raising 4 kids and in grad school? No? Oh, that too. 

You may not have the exact same situation, but you probably have an automatic yes too. 

As women we are conditioned to be gracious and accommodating. Most of us hate to say no, some literally can't. So we end up overcommitting to tasks we aren't passionate about, making no time for what we truly long to do and we are miserable!  Fear of failure or disappointment can both lead you to say yes far too quickly. Feeling insecure or inadequate can do the same thing. 

For me, it took a minor, but painful, health experience to stop me in my tracks. My energy level left me enough capacity to breath and check on my kids periodically, but there was very little room for much else. Guess what? The world did not end. 

Without me jumping up to be a superwoman, nothing tragic happened, what absolutely needed to be done, was still done and my family survived. Loosing my ability to say yes, taught me the benefit of saying no.

You see the automatic yes robs you of your ability to say what Lysa TerKeurst calls your best yes. That’s the yes to your deepest desires, your purpose, that thing you were put on earth to do. Your biggest goals and those dreams you constantly put off for another time all take a backseat to what? Baking for the bake sale you didn't even want to have? 

Now let me not pretend as if I never agree to do things I don't particularly want to or that you should become a selfish, horrible person. I still do things from time to time that are not truly my priority, but I do them with thought and intention and because that isn't my default situation, I'm not left depleted when I'm done. Instead I'm energized and content. 

Isnt' that what life is really about?

The default no makes the right yes possible. 

The default no allows me to say an intentional yes to the things that truly matter. Things that align with my values, my purpose and my goals. For me, I want to honor God first, myself second and then my family. There are times when service to God involves serving others, and I do that with joy. I know that I can't care for my family without caring for myself and I no longer feel guilty for recognizing that to be a necessity. It also helped for me to recognize that even though I was preaching balance, my kids were being effected by the stress I was modeling as a normal part of life. I didn’t want to pass that on to my four girls.

My best advice for adding a default no is to give yourself some stock answers. Things like:

  • "That sounds really good, let me think about it. When do you need an answer?"
  • "I'd love too, but I'm not sure my schedule will let me, let me check when I get home and I'll let you know later"(the key here is to actually check AND get back with them later. Yes, they may be unhappy with your no, but I'd rather have someone across the street mad at me than be stuck beating myself up over doing something I know I didn't want to.)
  • "My schedule is already full right now, is there another way I can help?"
  • "I love that you're doing that. I'll be sending you lots of prayers and good thoughts."

Ultimately, the default no is not really about no at all. It's about being able to say yes to the the big and small reasons you were actually placed on this planet. Sometimes the facade of busyness just helps us ignore that we aren't really sure what we should be doing. And wouldn't that be a waste of potential?

For me, learning to say no happened pretty instantly, but maintaining has it taken some effort. Maybe you're feeling that gentle tug at your heart that lets you know you've got to make some adjustments, but you're not sure exactly where to start.  Spend a few minutes tonight, reflecting on where your time is actually going.  How much is being spent on work, home, relationships and personal interests. If anything seems out of balance, it probably is. So, look at ways to get things back in order. It could take some time. Maybe that means stepping down as PTO president or asking for a co-leader for the next school year. But put the ball in motion.  An even simpler one, if you're a calendar girl like me, look ahead over your planner for the next few weeks and schedule a few things that you need want to do.  Then when requests come up you can say you already have an appointment.

Know that saying yes is a privilege that costs you the ability to say yes to something else.  Make every yes count.

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