Saying NO and being OK

the indispensible person

happier nowArthur received a question. His response is titled Saying NO and being OK.

The query is quite long. Here’s the beginning. “How do I learn to say no? All my life, I have tried to live my life helping others. As I approach my mid-sixties, I have found myself embroiled in so many people’s problems, that I am overwhelmed beyond belief.”

I SO relate to this. Arthur gave some sage advice, identifying the anonymous writer as perhaps a “rescuer,” which has often been the case in my experience. Sometimes, people, myself included, get a certain gratification from being indispensable while, AT THE SAME TIME, feeling overwhelmed by the implications of the tasks at hand.

One of the things I have done more often preemptively in the past decade is to say NO to almost everything that’s not already on the schedule. This wasn’t easy, and it is/I am a work in progress. And I needed to do so in even low-consequence situations.

A recent example. As I’ve noted, my church exterior appears in the season two premiere of The Gilded Age series. My wife got the DVD of Season 1 from the library and asked me, “Would you like to watch this with me?”   Sometimes I am too literal. I hear: Would I LIKE to watch it with her? The answer to THAT question is, Why yes! Of course!

But I said NO because I was working on reading a book review that I would be presenting at the library soon.

This happened to me a lot. Someone asks, “Could you…” be on this committee or take on that responsibility? Could I? Well, yes, I believe I have the requisite skills to do the job. Yes, I COULD. But even if it’s the question asked, the answer should not be whether I COULD but rather if I SHOULD, whether I WILL.

Well, this once

That said, I’m much better at a one-off, and Arthur alluded to this aspect. As I write this, I agreed to serve communion at church because someone will be out of town. Frankly, I like doing it; it’s not onerous – 15 minutes max to set up before service, 10 minutes afterward to clean up, and the serving is during the service I’m at anyway.

Occasionally, one IS the best person to resolve a particular issue. This happened to me in the autumn of 2023, when I brokered a resolution of an impasse, and I really was the only living person able to do so. But these are fairly rare situations for most of us.

In general, my default is to say NO, and then I try to juggle the other to-do things in my mind. Sometimes, I change my mind and say yes.

A recent vlogcast by John Green impressed me. He has been posting weekly on YouTube, barring illness or technical difficulties, since January 2007. He admitted that he wasn’t feeling it a few times a year but posted anyway. In 2024, if he’s not feeling it, he won’t do one.

Just say no. It’s easier said than done for many of us, especially when we see ourselves as “good” people. Just say NO, not always, but now and then.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

3 thoughts on “Saying NO and being OK”

  1. What took me the better part of a lifetime to learn is to know WHO to say no to. There are those who want to feed on you, emotionally or financially, or more often than not both. The problem for me has been, how do I spot them so I can avoid giving everything I’ve got to them? Most of the rest of humanity, most of whom probably won’t say no to you if you need a hand, are just like you. They can get all the help they can get. The trick is to not throw away what you have to give, and support those who can really use your help.

  2. I just read an article about how oldest siblings actually run the world because their upbringings make them so well suited for that. Yet, it can be so exhausting emotionally and physically as well.

    On Tuesday, I will be leading my last MLK observance ever because others really can do that. His legacy does not depend on me just because I happened to be in Albany’s 1st King march led by Mario Cuomo.

    I have learned beings expecting an eternal yes from you will have to hear NO several times before they will believe your new Method of Operating. Like if only my cat, Miles Davis, would take my repeated no for an answer when she thinks her food bowl looks too empty at 4am…sigh…

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