How To Say No And Be Okay With It
We are the generation of young women who grew up hearing that we can be anything we want to be. But, somehow we understood that to mean that we have to be and have everything: the education, the career, the marriage, the family, the volunteering, the traveling, the online following, the wardrobe, and the perfect body. With competing messages on whether you can have it all or if something has to give, it's a confusing world to live in.
In high school and college, I really struggled with saying no. At first, it was to get into a good college, but eventually "busy" became my identity. I felt like I needed to prove my worth based on how well I juggled school with jobs and extracurricular activities. So, I said yes to every opportunity that came my way even if it wasn't in my chosen field of study.
As a result, I barely slept. I only went to church when my parents made me feel guilty for skipping too often. I gained a lot of weight and ate too much bad food. I neglected my friendships, and I was incredibly miserable. But I covered it up well - taking the praise, accomplishments, and offers to do more as a badge of honor.
It was not until my first year of law school that I learned to let go and to say no. That was around the time I decided to deepen my relationship with God, and so I as I began to seek Him more, the things of this world began to lose their luster. And you know what? Three years later, my resume is just as impressive, my job opportunities are exponentially better than anything I could have gotten with my own efforts, and I am overall a better, healthier, and happier person.
Figure out your priorities.
This is probably the most important part of the entire process. It's a chance to gain some clarity and to narrow down what you want to focus on in your life.
I love the Make It Happen movement because it forces you to focus on what truly matters. If you haven't yet checked out Lara Casey's PowerSheets (a workbook to help with intentional goal setting), then you must check out her book. Going through the PowerSheets this year has really helped me figure out what I need to focus on in my life and what I can let go of. I was skeptical, but then I went one month without the PowerSheets and y'all it was chaos, busy, unproductive and I truly lost my way in making what matters happen.
But you don't need the PowerSheets or anything fancy to achieve the same result. All you really need is prayer, your Bible, and a journal. First, start with prayer. Ask God to show you what He wants you to focus your attention and time on - School? Work? Volunteering? Writing that novel you've always dreamed about? Family? Starting your own business? Caring after an elderly parent? This will change with different seasons of your life (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. -1 Corinthians 10:23
This process will take time and weeks, or even months of prayer (especially if your life is already cluttered with too many commitments). You and God will have to chip away at at a lot of misconceptions about what is important and what is not, you may need to give two weeks' notice to some commitments, or even make some lifestyle changes that take time.
Finally, take out your Bible and a piece of paper. Write down what you're learning on this journey:
- What suddenly loses its appeal in your life?
- What big ideas have been sitting in your heart that sounded too big to voice?
- What have you always wanted to do?
- Where do you want to be when you're 80?
- If you could envision your most fulfilling day and year yet, what would it look like?
Priorities in action
The answers to these questions are your priorities. At one point, I literally had to write out my priorities and tack them up on my bulletin board. For me, that looked like this:
- Relationships (family and close friends)
- My health
- Everything else
So, how does this look in practice? Well, when I had a decision to make on how to spend my time, I would look at that list. If it was a decision about whether I should study or go to church, then church automatically won because God is the first priority. Similarly, if I had choose between staying up to study for a few hours or go to bed at a reasonable time, sleep won because I have learned firsthand that getting enough sleep does wonders for my health and brain.
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. -Matthew 6:33
Now, there will be exceptions to the general rule. Around finals week, I will often shift school up to second on my list and put everything else on hold in my life so I can focus on getting through exams. Use your priority list as a guide, not as a rigid dictator. But always remember, seek Him first. Nothing in this world is as important as making time for God each and every day. May He always be your first priority.
When we run ourselves haggard with too many responsibilities and overburdened schedules, it's usually because we feel like we have to keep it all together. For me, I thought that to be a good student and job candidate, I had to build up the perfect resume - complete with leadership, extracurriculars, a perfect GPA, job experience, and whatever other extras I could make time for in order to set myself apart from others.
During my first year of law school though, God essentially stripped away my own efforts and humbled me into waiting on Him to provide. At first, my grades were lower than I expected (good, but not great). With the first year being incredibly difficult, I was not working on the side as I had been all through college and I just didn't have the time or mental space to get super involved on campus. When it came time to apply for jobs, I felt so inadequate. I felt like I had nothing to offer to set myself apart from the crowd - like I was pushed to the back of the crowd and lost in a sea of accomplished and bold voices. So, I turned to the only One who could do something about it.
Somehow, I began to get a lot of interviews - really good ones. I was shocked. I wanted to ask the employers why they were even talking to me. That first year, God took me on an incredible trust-building journey. When I came out on the other end of all of that, I realized that God had it all under control and that all my striving was like moving in place - draining and completely useless.
For the rest of law school, my anthem became simple: Lord, let them see You in me. Because I did not want people to praise my efforts, but to glorify Him. I wanted comments like this "Because of your good grades or your involvement in a bajillion activities or your connections, you go this job" to be replaced with "the only way she got that job was through divine intervention...it must have been God."
I do not want people to see my accomplishments, but His fingerprints on my life.
As such, I began to say no to the things that promoted my own name instead of His. For me, that included:
- Declining to join an academic honor society because the way the organization did social events did not match how a Christian should spend her time and I thought the expensive dues could be better spent elsewhere.
- Limiting my extracurricular involvement to two to three organizations, and taking a leadership role in only one of them each year.
- Skipping networking and/or school events when (1) my time could be better spent attending church, studying, or working on Tirzah or (2) I knew that there would be heavy drinking involved.
- Getting over FOMO (fear of missing out). I used to feel the need to accept all social invitations because I thought that's the only way I could keep my friends. But after too many dinners and random event that sucked away my time unproductively, I became very strategic with whom I spend my free time with. I tried to be as honest as possible when declining invitations and, over time, my classmates and friends figured out what matters to me and tailored their invitations accordingly. For example, the people in my life know what days I have church and that I will not skip church for social outings (but I'm not perfect y'all - there have been times where I had to skip church for school or work events, but those are rare!). Yes, this means that your life may be less "social" or that you may feel out of the loop on all the latest drama. But, the friends who matter will respect you for guarding your time and for being honest with them about your priorities. It may take time, but true friendships will adjust and flourish. And all the other extra, superficial social relationships and time wasters will fade away until you realize how little value they actually added to your life.
- Saying no to opportunities that do not fit my priorities or lifestyle. I've had some amazing job offers and other invitations that people said I was crazy to decline, but if after praying about it I felt God asking me to say no, because it would (1) add extra stress to my life, (2) distract me from God or my other priorities (like working long, extra hours!), or (3) God had something better for me, then I would decline.
So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. -Psalm 90:12
- Praying about every opportunity, job offer, and invitation. Every time I need to make a decision that would change how I spend my time, I go back to my list of priorities and prayer. Because it is so easy to agree to take on that extra job duty or volunteer to lead that event, but once reality sets in, your schedule just becomes more full and your life more stressful. So, I've learned to check with God first, my priorities second, and finally, my schedule last.
- Delegating. I used to feel the need to do everything on my own, and I would always be the first to volunteer for everything. Now, if I can delegate a task to someone else, I do, and if someone else volunteers, I step back and let someone else take the spotlight.
- Recognizing my limits - just because I can do everything, does not mean I should. I thrive on being busy, and I have heard "I don't know how you do it all" way too often. But it's all God, y'all. Somehow He gives me the strength, mental capacity, and wisdom to juggle a lot of different things in my life. But He has also shown me that it is only when I make time for Him and trust Him to provide for me that I truly operate "at capacity." Once I found that sweet spot, I balanced my responsibilities accordingly.
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. -Ephesians 5:15-17
We all have one short, beautiful life to live on this earth. It is up to you how you spend every precious minute of that life. So, spend it on what matters. Invest the time in the people and things that truly matter. Store up treasures in heaven. Say no to the things that distract you from your main priorities and, more importantly, from God.