Last week, I was invited to attend the American Liver Foundation’s (ALF) annual Hill Day in Washington DC. I went last year and ALF paid for food, lodging, and airfare. I enjoyed the experience, but I also found it incredibly frustrating because I don’t believe massive healthcare changes will occur until the general public understands the issue (i.e., liver cancer).
Instead of saying yes right away, I paused. I am still recovering from the cold* I caught in San Francisco. I have a heavy professional and personal travel schedule in the fall with trips to DC, California, Arkansas, Virginia, and Florida. I’m attending a major conference in June in Chicago. I have to go to DC for one day next week. I get exhausted just thinking about it. Plus, I don’t get paid for my patient advocacy work. It’s my passion, not my vocation.
Saying YES all the time
I used to be guilty of saying YES all the time. After several years of self-analysis, I realized I said YES for three reasons:
- I feared rejection. I thought if I said NO, the person wouldn’t like/love me anymore.
- I wanted to please people. I hated to let people down.
- I thought I could do the task better than anyone else. I hated to delegate.
Hating to delegate
I realized one other thing: I was able to say NO in my professional life more often than in my personal life. I’ll admit I still have issues with delegating tasks, but now I allow other people to do tasks even if I can do them. I am much more aware of how my time should be spent. Let’s face it: every Type-A entrepreneur has an inner control freak inside of them that wants to do EVERYTHING because when you first start your business, you are doing everything. Usually by yourself. Delegating and trusting others is an exercise in releasing control and it’s not easy. But it’s nice to say, no, I don’t need to do X, this person can do it.
I know some of my clients feel they cannot say no if their boss asks them to do something. For some of them, they refuse to delegate; for others, they fear the loss of their job if they don’t do the requested task. Here’s the thing: if you are good at your job, you can negotiate.
Example: When I worked as a social media manager, my boss asked me to “clean up” a press release the PR manager had written. I had to rewrite the entire piece. The PR manager got the job because of her connections, not because of her abilities. When I was asked to write another press release, I refused. I pointed out that writing press releases was the first bullet point under her job description. I said while I didn’t mind doing them, the company either needed to pay me per press release or increase my salary because I was doing a key component of another person’s job in addition to my own work. The company refused both options and didn’t make a counter offer. Instead, they stopped issuing press releases.
Lesson: Don’t think you have to say YES just to keep your job.
Pleasing people and fearing rejection
I’m a recovering people pleaser, and I’ve learned to embrace rejection. You’ll never please everybody all the time. It took me years to figure that out. When you say YES, but you mean NO, you may wind up resenting your closest family and friends. But it’s not their fault. It’s your fault. If you’re not honest about your feelings, you only have yourself to blame.
Recommended: What I learned from 100 days of rejection
Example #1: Three weeks after my sister Adrienne died, I attended a Halloween party. I have no idea why I agreed to go. Maybe because my boyfriend’s son was staying with us that weekend and we wanted to give him a sense of normalcy. Maybe because one of my best friends hosted the party and I didn’t want to let her down. I didn’t attempt to look good. I wore jeans, a black turtleneck, and zero makeup. I probably brushed my hair. I remember sitting on my friend’s couch and talking to one of her guests. She asked me a question and my out-of-context response was, “My sister died three weeks ago from liver cancer.” From her face, I could tell she was wondering why I was there. Turned out, she was recovering from colon cancer. While we had a nice conversation, I didn’t want to attend a party on the first Halloween — Adrienne’s favorite holiday — without my sister. She had been planning her costume right up until she died on October 9.
Example #2: Two months after Adrienne died, my best friend’s husband asked me to plan a surprise 30th birthday party for her. I didn’t know how to say NO. They had been like an aunt and uncle to Adrienne. They had been there for us throughout her illness. I didn’t want to do it even though I enjoy throwing parties. But two months after my sister died? The little girl I raised? I was numb. I planned the party. I attended the party. I buried my grief and plastered on my happiest face at the party. I even took my best friend and another girlfriend out to an exotic male dance revue at a local Los Angeles club. I felt like two different people. The outside Andrea who pretended (and wanted) to be okay and the inside Andrea who was a wounded animal slowly dying every day that passed without my sister. During the years that followed Adrienne’s death, I put on the best acting performance of my life. It was the only way I knew how to survive.
Example #3: Fast forward nine years later. I was married, not to my boyfriend, but to a man I met after Adrienne died. (We divorced in 2015.) That year, my former husband worked in Detroit, and I visited him for ten days in October. He knew October 9 was the toughest day of the year for me. Without talking to me, he had planned a trip to Niagara Falls with some of his coworkers. It was the last place I wanted to be. I told him I didn’t want to go. I wanted to spend time with him in Detroit — just the two of us. I couldn’t stand the thought of being around his friends, strangers, and tourists on a day when I wanted to curl inside myself and disappear. I begged him to change our plans. He refused. But here’s the deal: I didn’t have to go. I could have put my foot down and said, no I’m not getting in the car. It’s not in my best interest. But I didn’t. I wanted him to be happy so I went along to get along. Fighting with him was worse than faking happiness the whole weekend. We went to the White Water Walk, where you can sit and watch the rushing rapids of the Niagara River. I watched that water for a long time. He has no idea how close I came to jumping in and allowing the river to take me away.
When is a good time to say YES?
While I said YES to family and friends, I often said NO to invitations from strangers or acquaintances, especially around the holiday season. But in 2013, I decided to change that pattern. No matter who asked, I vowed to say YES to every holiday party. I forced myself to get out of the house. In all, I attended eight parties from a variety of my communities. I saw my yogis (1) and my winos (2). I went to parties thrown by professional organizations (2). My former husband and I went to friends’ (3) parties in three different cities in Southern California. Two parties were on the same night, but we went to both of them. Also, I wore a different outfit to every party. My dresses and high heels came out of the closet. I met new people. Most of all, I wasn’t faking it. I was having fun.
Lesson: If saying YES changes a negative pattern for you, then say YES. See what happens.
Did I say YES or NO to the invitation?
After much consideration, I sent this email to ALF:
“I really appreciate the invitation, and I enjoyed participating in the ALF Hill Day last year, but this year I have to say no thank you. I have a heavy travel schedule in the fall, and I’m launching a big project right before ASCO. Additionally, I’m still sick* from ASCO GI (Jan 18 – 22) so I’m cutting way back on my travel schedule this year.”
Do you say YES to everything? Maybe you’re a people pleaser or you think you can do the job better than anyone else. I’m guilty of both!
- The next time someone asks you to do something, ask yourself if you really want to do it.
- If you don’t, say NO. Be polite but say NO.
- Make a list of everything you have said YES to when you really meant no and ask yourself why you said YES.
- Email me the results! I would love to hear them.
Also published on Medium.