By Nora Isaacs, author of Women in Overdrive: Find Balance and Overcome Burnout at Any Age
As a writer, I get a lot of requests for help from complete strangers. They send me emails wanting to know how to hone a pitch and break into the journalism business. They have burning questions: Should they email an editor or call them? Should they take a copywriting course or a proofreading one?
They think because I write about staying balanced and healthy, I can tell them what yoga poses to do for their niece’s chronic fatigue syndrome or how to get their husband to do the dishes. I was a younger once, too, and many kindhearted people helped me along the way. I put myself in their position. Who am I to squash a true talent that might never be realized, so discouraged they might become from my lack of response? What if they advice I give them changes the course of their life forever? So I answer them. When I really want to be sleeping or doing the bills or reading a book to my son.
I really want these strangers to succeed in life. I do. But last week I finally reached my breaking point. Under a tight deadline, I got an email from a woman who couldn’t make it to a writing class I taught. She asked me about what RSS feeds are best for health writers. First of all, let me tell you that I don’t know what this is. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t text message, own a Blackberry either. I can barely get by figuring out the volume on my cordless phone headset.
But I digress. The point is, I didn’t know what she was talking about and at that moment I didn’t have time to answer. I wrote her a direct email saying so, no big apologies. I knew it was the right thing. So why did I feel so guilty? We women don’t know how to do it. It’s that simple. When we do, we feel aggressive, assertive, bitchy, and selfish. As a (very informal) survey done very unscientifically shows, this is why we don’t do it enough. We think we need to please everyone all of the time. We need to prove to ourselves and the world that we are worthy, we are capable, we can handle it. . . all. But at what cost?
This is the dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about. For me, the cost is my sense of balance. When I don’t say no enough, things start to build up like those pressure cookers of old. And then I burst. And it’s not pretty. It means that I feel taken advantage of, underappreciated, resentful of everyone who travels in my orbit. And we know this isn’t good for anyone, especially spouses who are trying to love us and deal with their own sense of overwhelm. When I say no, I feel like I have to explain myself. I feel like I have to constantly apologize, backpedal, and be wishy-washy.
My goal is to say No in a confident yet loving, authoritative yet gentle way. I became determined to become better at saying no. Then I realized I have about five-dozen opportunities a day to practice with my toddler. I embarked on a practice run. My son wanted more applesauce. “No.” I told him. He looked at me quizzically. He asked me for more applesauce. “No.” Again, he looked at me askance. A long silence. He studied my every facial twitch to see if I was bluffing. “All done,” he said. Then he tugged at his Winnie-the-Pooh bib, releasing the Velcro from behind his head. It worked. When learning to say no, you have to start somewhere, right?
Nora Isaacs is a freelance magazine writer with a specialty in health, wellness, yoga and the author of Women in Overdrive: Find Balance and Overcome Burnout at Any Age . Nora’s work has appeared in Alternative Medicine, Body & Soul, Fit Yoga, Fitness, Natural Health, The New York Times, Wired, Women’s Health, Salon.com, The San Francisco Chronicle, Yoga Journal, Yoga Life, and many other national magazines.