Friday, January 27, 2012

31 Writers, 31 Lessons-Lesson 27: Saying No Doesn't Mean Desertion

I discovered, as 2011 came to a close, that my life was spiraling out of control and the only person to blame was me. I caused this mess through this undefined desire to feel needed. The busier my life, the more people needed me. Seems obvious? My world became cluttered by time commitments and life went from being joyful to being a burden.

This burst of frenetic activity spiraled out of control after a brutal 2011 where my identity as an educator of at-risk students was ripped away. How to fill the hours now void of a job caused me to say yes to everything. The result? Three jobs, none particularly engaging, along with starring roles as mom and significant other. On a good night, I flopped into a chair exhausted by 10:00pm only to rise again a few hours later. Over and over this pattern repeated. My frantic choices to be needed overwhelmed me while what I really wanted to focus upon in my life became background noise.

Poor decisions led me down a dark path where I no longer could enjoy the waning years of time with my son before he leaves the nest; to love the man in my life and to make a global difference through ending poverty disappeared into the abyss of pleasing everyone else and their priorities. I also lost time to self-nurture through reading, yoga and writing. My passion for writing, the anticipation of my first book, and the writing groups and workshops I ran became a chore. I knew this was not what I wanted.

January 2012 marked a change in mindset and the need for a wake-up and a total housecleaning of the mess I had made. My heart was in the right place, I realized, but the path I sprinted down de-energized me. I needed a new path and with it, some new skills. Biggest among the behaviors requiring change: the ability to say no without fear of being deserted or disliked.

I reviewed everything on my calendar and identified items as either delete, delegate or diminish. Once that step was accomplished, I began reaching out to those whom my decisions impacted with a “soft no”. The process started with me: I had to release the guilt of saying “no” to someone or to another commitment. Learning to give a “soft no” when I needed to decline an activity by showing support and concern, while still expressing that I could not devote the time needed to another project, were well received. My friends appreciated the honesty and didn’t bury me with guilt or forget to invite me to lattes. I also moved from being the “do-er” to a “consultant” as I transitioned out of activities. I help people now when they have questions versus doing the work myself. What a difference this mind shift made.

Simplify and shed. Gone were the volunteer activities where I had lingered for too long and the book clubs with people I saw only once a month. Gone were unrewarding bible studies leaving my spiritual life focused now in one meaningful direction. I’ve learned to do without in many cases. But I’ve also reignited passions that fell by the wayside in my quest to be needed.

I enlisted help from two amazing women, the double Donna duo, who challenge me every time I open my mouth to say, “I’d help”. They are holding me accountable as I make this life transformation I need. Without them, I surely would slip back into old patterns of “yes, I can”.

The result of my housecleaning? I have more time to write and have rekindled excitement for my first book. My son tolerates me hanging out in his room with him. I relish the singular job that I have and am striving to be exceptional in this role, but am not trying to climb the ladder right now. I don’t feel guilty for saying no. Well, most of the time. Life simplified by a two letter word. NO. And people still like me.

Cheryl Stahle, whose work regularly appears on, focuses on memoir writing and coaching people on how to craft their life stories. She frequently guest blogs as well as writes Cheryl’s Chatter about life as a single mom thrust into a mid-life career change while putting the finishing touches on her first book.


  1. Thank you Catherine for the opportunity to write for your readers. Namaste

  2. An interesting tale of "cleaning up your act" (so to speak), Cheryl. I'm in the process of major change as well; most of it is done, but much is still to do. Or Too Due.

    I hope you get that force field around you that ensures you get your sleep. My discovery is that, without sleep, my life messes up pretty quickly.

    Blessings and Bear hugs.

    And thanks, Katherine, for sharing Cheryl with us.