So I have this friend, yeah, let’s say she’s a friend. She used to be torn in a million directions because 1) she’s in a career that requires both serious intellectual and creative time alone AND extensive interaction with folks known and unknown, 2) she has hobbies that require both extensive time practicing and interacting with folks known and lesser known, 3) she tends toward the slightly introverted and sensitive side and can be overwhelmed by a jam packed schedule and a lack of quiet down time, 4) she has young children that require her time and attention, AND 5) she has not always been good at saying no. I’m confident some wording changes in the previous items would make them apply to LOTS of people. I get the feeling many of you are feeling stretched thin like my friend used to be.
She sprinkled her yeses across her universe. Yes, work. Yes, singing. Yes, kids. Yes, favor. Yes, coffee. Yes, dog. Yes, choir. Yes, lunch. Yes, phone call. Yes, homemade valentines. Yes, training class. Yes, laundry. Yes, exercise. Yes, neighbor chat. Yes, grocery store. Yes, veterinarian. Yes, laundry. Yes, family gathering. Yes, editing help. Yes, friend in crisis. Yes, blog post. Yes, other friend in crisis. Yes, women’s networking lunch. Yes, family obligation. Yes, laundry (where does all the daggone laundry come from?). Yes, volunteering at school. Yes, web design overhaul. Yes, library run for family. Yes, dry cleaning run. Yes, moderator phone call for disputing loved ones. Yes, video class. Yes, food delivery for sick parishioner. Yes, proofread for friend. Yes, new website. Yes, family menu. Yes, errands for ALL of the THINGS. Yes, plan a trip. Yes, read the homework. Yes, find the glasses. Yes, sign the forms. Yes, clean the retainer. Yes, fix the toilet. Yes, change the vent filters. Yes, plant a garden. Yes, cut the lawn. Yes, trim the hedges. Yes, committee. Yes, benefit concert. Yes, give me lots of plants from your garden. Yes, I will plant the plants. Yes, what can I bring? Yes, yes, yes, freaking yes.
Now listen, don’t misunderstand me. There are some things in there that I would happily say yes to at any time. There are also things in there that do genuinely need to be done. There are also things in there that would make me heartsick not to do them. Life is complicated and full, and happy lives are often complicated and full. And yet, there are limits. There are limits to what any one person can do. There are limits that extend beyond physical capacity. There are limits to what one person can do sanely; that’s level one. Next level? There are limits to what one can do and feel satisfied. Next level? There are limits to what one can do and maintain energy and focus for one’s passion and purpose. That is a fact. And all of the freedom that can be found in focus gets diminished by all that sprinkling of yeses.
Every yes is not just a yes, it’s also a no. I’ve said it before. Every time you say yes, you’re saying no to something else. So what is it you’re saying no to when you agree to intervening in a problem that is not yours? What is it you’re saying no to when you tackle tasks that could wait or that could actually be left undone without the world withering away? Every yes is also a no.
The only solution to a calendar that explodes on a regular basis, to that level of exhaustion that can only come from regular overextension, to that swimmy headed feeling when you look at your list of things to do and know it won’t happen (nothing like a daily failure to make you feel great about yourself), to the short of breath feeling that comes from realizing you’ve done it to yourself again… is to take back your yes. You have to reel that thing in. You have to find it, bring it back to yourself, figure out what’s most important to you, acknowledge your physical and spiritual realities, and then redistribute that yes in a limited, focused way that is NOT selfish. That limited distribution is necessary if you want to actually do any of those things you say yes to the best that you can, if you actually want to get a good night’s sleep, if you actually want to catch a full breath, if you want to not just check the boxes off but feel how good it was to do those things and be totally present while you were doing them. The thing is, when you don’t do the things that are only yours, sharing the gifts only you have to give, because you’re so busy in all of your other yeses, the world misses you. You have a thing to do, that only you can do. You can’t do that if you’re running around like a chicken with your head cut off checking off boxes and wondering how it got this way. Take back your yes. It’s yours after all. If you need some help with that, give some life editing a try. I can help you reel that yes in, figure out what it’s meant for, and show you how to distribute it in a focused way that feels like freedom.