June Editorial: Just Say No
This month, PHS Founder and Managing Editor Trish Wylie, talks about the importance of learning to say #JustSayNo, both for the sake of your mental health and your creativity.
There's a song which says sorry seems to be the hardest word. But I would argue that.
Saying sorry means admitting you made a mistake and at times that can be hard. But if you are self-aware and y'know, an adult, then apologising for your mistakes shouldn't feel like the hardest thing you do. Of course, it carries more weight if you learn from it and don't go right out and do the same thing again, but as I mentioned in previous editorials, owning your mistakes, along with your achievements, is both part of your personal growth and can be empowering. Everyone makes mistakes. We're all human. And one would hope we also know the difference between right from wrong. So, sorry shouldn't seem to be the hardest word. Even if setting aside you pride isn't easy.
The word that can be harder to say, is no. Especially if you don't want to offend, hurt or let anyone down. It becomes a matter of conscience and treating others as you would like to be treated yourself. 'No' is synonymous with rejection. And as writers, we all know how that feels.
There was a scene in the movie 27 Dresses which provides a perfect example of what I'm talking about here. In it, the heroine was bemoaning the fact her little sister was getting married and that she would be expected to do everything for her, just like she always did. The hero asked why she didn't just say no. 'You have said no before, haven't you?' he inquired. To which the heroine reluctantly replied that she hadn't. Not ever. He then urged her to practice it with him and for a short while she did okay, but inevitably, she failed. Why? Because she was a people pleaser. She wanted people to be happy and put their happiness ahead of her own.
I think a great many of us, whether aware of it or not, are guilty of that.
For many years, somewhat hypocritcally, I encouraged the friends and family who took on more than their fair share of other people's troubles, drama and workload, to say no more often. Being selfish from time-to-time doesn't make you a bad person. You have to look after yourself first or you will get to a point where you can't help anyone else. I still believe that. But at the same time, I know I've been neglectful of my own needs and frequently still am. I can say no but I hate doing it.
You see, I suffer from a little problem I may have mentioned before and have duly dubbed volunteer syndrome. If you're a fellow sufferer, then you know what I'm talking about. For those who aren't, I'll elaborate...
People who suffer from volunteer syndrome are the one's who put their hand up, sometimes literally, and say 'I'll do it', even if they already have too much piled on their plate. In the worst cases, they don't even wait for an opportunity to volunteer, they go looking for things to do. What's more, if they don't stop doing it or the people who care about them continue to enable them to do it, things will rapidly spiral downwards. Over time, it becomes the norm and is expected, simply because, just like the heroine in 27 Dresses, that's what they've always done. Then the self-imposed pressure builds, it becomes too much to deal with, until one day, it can feel like you're drowning.
I know, because I've been fighting to keep my head above water for quite some time now.
As a result, I've decided no seems to be the hardest word because it involves more than vocalising that one tiny word. It involves a change of mind-set, means putting youself first and placing your needs ahead of everyone else's and requires a firm belief that your happiness isn't reliant on the happiness of others, That's not to say the happiness of the people you care about isn't important. Of course, it is. But if they care as much about you as you do about them, they'll want you to do what makes you happy.
If writing or creativity of any kind is what makes you happy, then as we've discussed before, it's vital you protect the time you spend doing it. And yes, that does involve a degree of selfishness. Learn to live with it. Remind yourself it doesn't make you a bad person. Equally as important is your abilty to realize there's a limit to how much you can take on. The one has an inevitable knock-on effect on the other: Take on too much due a subconscious inability to say no in the form of volunteer syndrome and your precious time gets eaten up. And take it from someone who knows, volunteer syndrome can be a killer.
Prioritizing what matters most to you, delegating where you can and not stressing over minor details can help you to keep your head on straight. As can learning to let go. if you tend to take more than your fair share of the workload to satisfy a need for control, or volunteering less when your to-do list is already a mile long. So, whether you do it out loud by saying the word or take a quieter stance by being a little more selfish, just say no more often and I promise, things will get easier.
The world won't stop turning if you do. But it may spin a little bit slower.
Do you have a problem saying no or suffer from volunteer syndrome? Are you prone to taking on more than you should and feel your creativity/mental health suffers as a result? Let us know in the comments or join the discussion on our Social Media using #JustSayNo.