Learning To Say No (and getting over FOMO)

This phrase has been on my mind a lot lately. And specifically how it applies to my roles as wife, mother, business owner, artist (the list goes on). As we grow older and discover our talents and preferences, opportunities abound. And for many, many years, it was in my best interest to pursue as many as I could! Making new friends, joining new clubs, trying a different sport, accepting challenging jobs, traveling to new cities and foreign countries…. why say NO? These opportunities turn into wonderful, unforgettable experiences. Saying YES has some incredible benefits. 

But, somewhere along the way, it got harder and harder to say no. Saying yes became the default for me and, if you know my personality, that’s not a good thing. I am a self-proclaimed people pleaser, and when it comes to saying NO, that can make life pretty stressful. I’ve come to dread social or work situations where I would have to express some variance of the negative, and it has gotten me into some pretty tight situations with friends, family, co-workers and clients. And recently, I’ve recognized that something that needs to change.

It’s probably one of the first words that I learned and yet, nearly 30 years later, it’s become one of the hardest words to say.

No is such a simple word, but it has so many implications. We hear it a lot in childhood: “No talking in church. No TV on a school night. No hitting your sister!” No is an important word for settings boundaries with children. And I never liked hearing it! But I also never fully comprehended how hard it would be to say it to my own children. It’s so simple, right? Just say NO and that’s the end of it. Not quite… they keeping asking. Again. And again. And again. But it never occurred to me (until now) that denying my children proves to be just a much about denying myself. It’s not easy. When they ask for the millionth time to watch cartoons when they really should be playing outside, it would be so easy for me to give in and glue them to the TV so I can get some stuff done. But is what really what’s best for them? Or me? The harder choice tends to be the better one. Why does it always work out that way? Parenting is a microcosm of life and has taught me so much about myself in 3 short years, shining a giant spotlight on my flaws and shortcomings. I can’t imagine what I’ll learn in the next 30 years… But what it’s showing me now is that saying no is a difficult, but vital, choice that often is better for everyone in the long run.

Saying no doesn’t always have to mean self-denial, but it can often mean a perceived negative impact on those around you. I finally realized that, for the longest time, my fear of saying no was what might be commonly termed as FOMO (fear of missing out). How could I possibly say no when this opportunity is full of potential for ________? (Fill in the blank with fun, learning, money, networking, the greater good, whatever it may be). I’ve attended social events, joining nonprofit boards, taken on clients, and generally added to my workload by saying yes because I thought if I said no I would really be missing out. But, when I realized days, weeks or months later, that I wasn’t fully committed to the project/group/event, and my efforts were not 100%, the time dedicated was draining my energy of other worthy causes, and causing me to feel resentment, the original rush of YES has left a bitter taste in my mouth. I said yes because I thought they needed me, that it wouldn’t get done without me, or that I would be missing out on something if I didn’t. The truth? The world will go on turning without my efforts. Things will still get done, the party will start and finish and I won’t be a less fulfilled person for not attending.

It’s a strange realization to come to, discovering that after many years of life expanding and filling hours with every new opportunity (which is a good and wonderful thing), it whittles back down to just the necessities, what’s really important. I have discovered a sense of contentment in knowing that I may be missing out on one thing while I’m treasuring another. Like rocking my babies to sleep instead of meeting friends to try a new restaurant or attend a business networking event. Priorities change as our lives change, and learning when and how to say no is part and parcel of that. An enthusiastic 5 years ago may be a hard NO now. And that’s okay. Just because the opportunity is there, doesn’t mean we have to take it. A big part of this is trusting that God places opportunities in our lives for a reason — and learning the wisdom to accept or reject them is often about giving up control.

Adulthood offers so many privileges and it’s easy to get used to the power of yes, controlling what comes into our lives and “leaning in” to everything life has to offer, as the popular book would say. (More on that? Check out this article) But what I realized is that every yes, comes with a no. There’s only so many hours in the day, and you can’t be two places at once. When the yes means that other people or projects in my life will suffer, it must become a no. This means thinking a little longer and harder about making decisions. It means planning out priorities and focusing on necessities. It affects budgeting, parenting, social life, spiritual life and mental health. And as I learn to trust that God will provide the right opportunities, even when I say no to something that sounds wonderful, I am discovering a new sense of freedom and peace in decision-making that could never co-exist with FOMO. Fear of missing out? More like Finally Opposing More Opportunities. I’m not sure that one will catch on, but you get it, right?

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. 

1 Corinthians 10:23

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