I have always hated saying it to people, especially those who might judge the essence of who I am inaccurately, as a result. Ultimately, it’s always run counter to my character to disappoint.
But this past weekend, I did just that.
I said “no” to someone.
I said “no” to giving more than I could provide.
I stood within the integrity of my initial offer of generosity and refused go beyond it.
I refused to compromise my boundaries or to take time away from my precious family in order please someone else.
And it felt good. Really, really good.
In our current culture that encourages us to say “yes” at all costs, it’s not an easy thing to do, to say “no.” There are books, movies, podcasts, and movements dedicated to inviting, embracing, and devoting ourselves to “yes.”
In fact, I would consider myself a recovering “yes-person,” a pleaser or Obliger. In her recent book, The Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin describes an individual of the Obliger tendency as someone who “meets outer expectations, but struggles to meet expectations they put on themselves.” Many of my past decisions have been guided by the following tenant- above all, ensure that people like you.
Whenever I have had to disappoint people, fallen short on another’s expectations of me, or had to draw a line, the decision has weighed heavily on my heart, slipped its way into my dreams, and left me sleeplessly second-guessing my choices. For too long, my decisions could be summed up by someone else’s evaluation of them. In the past, I have often ignored the signposts of my intuition, feeling compelled to meet exterior demands on my time, performance, and ability because the alternative meant letting someone down.
Disappointing someone might result in judgement.
Judgement could give way to dislike.
Dislike could lead directly to un-lovabliity.
And In my mind, there was nothing worse.
But not this time. I made the decision to say “no” with absolute clarity and peace of mind.
As time marches on, I have questioned the need to derive my value from pleasing others. Lovability, I’ve learned, comes from an inner sense of worthiness and belonging, not from external reinforcement. The truth is, the more you attempt to meet external expectations, the further you drift from your own path of purpose. The more you stay true to your integrity, the more you uphold your self-trust, the more loveable, worthy, and valued you wind up feeling deep inside.
It’s one thing to know this, intellectually. It’s an entirely different experience to put this into practice with actual, unpredictable, reactionary, tangible humans.
It was Thursday morning and I had just finished contacting beneficiaries for an upcoming charity photoshoot event.
These days, photos play an integral role in creating, sharing, documenting, and preserving memories. The cost of family photo sessions can be astronomically expensive and that cost can be a barrier to entry for lower-income or single-family homes. In the spirit of the Small Act Big Impact initiative, I thought it would be fun to offer a handful of single-parent families (from the non-profit 1 Up Single Family Resource Centre) a mini-session photoshoot and a single edited digital family portrait as a keepsake.
No ulterior motive.
No business marketing scheme.
Zero personal gain beyond the joy of using my hobby to genuinely add value to people’s lives.
That morning, several of the individuals I would be photographing reached out to thank me or share their stories in anticipation of the shoot. One of the single-moms emailed me, stating, “This sweet surprise feels like one of those little nudges to let me know I’m doing the right thing and being rewarded in this recent decision of mine to leave an unhealthy relationship and change everything for me and my children.”
I was feeling excited and honoured to be providing a service that might bring happiness to people who could not otherwise afford it.
Ping! My thoughts were interrupted by the signal of another email entering my inbox. One of the recipients, whom I had not yet met, had presumed that because the photoshoot was free, there was a catch. Her assumption led her to believe that doing the shoot would result in some benefit to me personally or financially, so she took it upon herself to make several bold demands of my time.
Acknowledging her wishes, I kindly declined and stated that in order to fulfill her expectations, I would be compromising important time with my family; furthermore, I assured her that because of the nature of the project, any benefit to be would be of the heart, not financial.
She responded almost immediately, proceeding to compare my “services” to other for-profit company ventures and marketing campaigns. In closing, she snidely asserted that the free offer was hardly worth her time, and that unless I could deliver on her list of demands, she wouldn’t be attending the shoot. Looking back now, I think her goal had been to shame me into submission. This was not a negotiation she was willing to lose.
I was stunned. I reread the email, believing I’d missed something or that maybe she was joking. And as I did, I felt an angry red heat rising in my chest, travelling up my neck, and spreading across my cheeks. I felt sickened by the skepticism lacing each line of her message, distain and entitlement emanating from the text like destructive radioactive waves.
For a moment, I began questioning my own adequacy. Maybe, she was right! Maybe what I was offering wasn’t enough. She wanted filet mignon, five-courses, and white-glove service, but what I was offering was a warm, soul-infused, hearty bowl of soup. Briefly, I felt the need to explain myself, to make her understand that there was no catch! I wanted her to see the purpose and intent behind the shoot. I wanted desperately in that moment for her to know, see, and understand me.
But then, I realized something…
Our world is in crisis right now and we have all become victims of uncertainty and scarcity.
We have collectively become conditioned not to trust people.
We have learned that in order to survive and protect ourselves, we must read between the lines for the ulterior motives, because everything that seems too good to be true always is.
We want to win, not lose. Therefore, we continually play anticipatory offense to win the game, at all costs.
We have been acclimatised to our dog-eat-dog world by becoming takers. We have been trained to believe that since everyone else is taking, we might as well, too. Our appetite has become insatiable because there is never enough. The scarcity story plays out in all aspects of our lives.
There are not enough jobs.
There is not enough time.
There is not enough money.
There is not enough sleep.
There is not enough stuff.
We feel we need to negotiate by asking for more than we deserve because that’s the only way to get what we need.
We actively eliminate humanity from our interactions to protect our tender hearts and, in doing so, we become ever more disconnected from the heartbeat of the world.
And so, I understood that this woman was simply a casualty of our current culture. Compassion and empathy edged out the anger.
As I crafted my response with a more open heart, I was reminded of Dr. Maya Angelou who once said: “You teach people how to treat you.”
My goal was not to please. My goal was not to win, either. My goal was to stand strong, with respectful integrity and say “no.”
So, I did.