Every two year old gets it—often better than the adults around her. In fact, once a toddler discovers the true power of No, they use it with abandon, muttering it, shouting it, playing with it, experimenting with it. It’s actually a thrilling step in our evolution as a person—that moment when we realize we have power over our selves, our surroundings, and our choices, even if those choices are simply whether we will eat mashed carrots or mashed peas.
What the two year old understands on some primal level is that the very act of saying no begins to define who she is. It’s not about rejecting life or experiences—is there anyone more embracing of life than a two year old?—but rather, it is about understanding on some fundamental level that our choices define us. Our choices create necessary, healthy boundaries. Boundaries that allow us to begin to self actualize and differentiate ourselves from our parents and the adults around us.
The problem is, as adults it is easy to forget that saying no isn’t just about turning people down or disappointing them or feeling like we aren’t giving enough—although that is certainly a big part of saying no. Even as adults, what we say no to defines us, creates boundaries, and, most importantly, gives us the energy to say yes to something else, something that is more important to us and our work here on this earth, whether that work be raising a family, tilling a field, running a business, or writing a book.
For some people, their creative areas align nicely with what society expects of its adult members: a knack for business, a head for numbers, a unique talent for reframing the nature of how we think of the universe and the laws of physics. But for those of us whose creativity does not have a business or scientific application, it can be harder to cordon off the time we need. After all, as a society, we don’t particularly value creativity. Or if we do, we see it as a commodity
But even as adults, we need to remember the power of saying No. We need to say it as loudly as that two year old.
We need to plant our feet firmly in the ground, look the person in the eye, and say No, I’m sorry. I can’t. FULL STOP. We do not need to argue or justify or explain. We are allowed to say no.
I’m not suggesting we should remove ourselves completely from the societal sphere of volunteer work and participation (although on days when I am swinging heavily introvert, it is a pleasant fantasy) but we should be very conscious of our choices—of our yeses—and use them wisely. [Read more…]