As a woman I am expected to be all things. Smart, sexy, a great mom, a good employee, an amazing homemaker, an adventurous lover and so many other things. For most of my life I have made it a point to be what others have expected of me. A child that didn’t cause shame to my family, a friend who was always available and later a wife who kept the house and kid clean while satisfying my husband three to four times per week all while not uttering a compliant or stating when enough was enough. Putting the needs of other people ahead of my own had become so much of who I was that I honestly was not sure what I actually wanted for myself. It wasn’t until my business faltered, marriage began to unravel and my relationship with my sister took a turn that I started to think critically about what I wanted from life and what I was willing to stand up for.
While in counseling to help me sort out the implosion of everything around me my therapist asked me one simple question “What do you want for your life? Your answer should not take into account what other people expect you to be.” I sat there dumbfounded because I could not answer her. In fact it took me about a month to formulate a coherent answer. When I say it took me a month I’m not using hyperbole here it took me a solid 30 days or two more sessions before I had an answer for what I wanted for my life. I had strained friendships and given up friendships for my marriage, I had molded myself into the business person I thought I needed to be to be successful. I later gave up my business for my marriage and contorted myself into the person my ex-husband demanded I become with no freedoms or privacy in a vain attempt to save our marriage. I tried to pray and become the type of woman that would be blessed with a restored marriage by weathering all things as the good book suggested and through all of this my soul was dying. My spirt was crying out for freedom and seeking solace and acceptance.
During this time of soul searching a friend asked me a question that has changed the course of my life. He said “Can you live the rest of your life just as it is right now? If you can then you are all set but if you can’t what are you willing to do to change it?” The answer to this was a resounding no and there was so much power and fear in that one word. Once I knew what I didn’t want I set about doing the work of determining what I did want. The first step was setting boundaries. I first had to set boundaries with myself and acknowledge my own shortcomings and the ways I had failed myself. I then had to learn to forgive myself in order to begin to heal. The next step was to set clear boundaries for other people and that meant I had to be clear about what treatment I was no longer going to tolerate. This cost me my marriage and my relationship with my sister but it strengthened my relationships with myself, my daughter and my close friends became closer.
I also began to be very clear in my intentions with people. I stopped agreeing to do things that I didn’t want to do and going places that I didn’t want to go and it was terrifying. I was scared that if I didn’t contort myself to be all things to all of the people in my life that I would lose them but what I found was that I gained so much peace of mind that I didn’t know I was missing. I realized that by embracing the power of no I was free to do the things that I really wanted to do and I was able to not be stressed about trying to fit everything in. This allowed me to be more present when I was with my daughter or be more fully engaged in the activity that I was doing because I was not stressed about where else I was expected to be.
By embracing the power of no I have given myself permission to be my authentic self without reservation. Now this transformation did not happen overnight it has taken me over two year, countless books, reflection and the stillness required to listen to my inner spirt. When an opportunity comes my way instead of immediately saying yes, I take a beat and ask myself “Do you really want to do this?”. If the answer is “maybe”, “well I could fit it in” or “I know this person would really like it if I did this.” Then I decline the invitation. I have declined more invitations than I have accepted this year and it has been freeing and low and behold I still have friends and people who care about me. Those friends even continue to invite me places. When I do say yes, I can fully enjoy the experience because I know that I sincerely want to be there and that has been transformative for my relationships with my loved ones. Imagine how many people could lead more productive and fulfilled lives if they embraced the power of no.