There was a time in my life when I said “yes” when I meant “no”, and “no” when I meant “yes”. Looking back, I realize I did it because that’s what I thought people wanted from me. And I wanted to be the person folks wanted me to be.
I said “yes” so often that my friend Fran gave me a t-shirt which read “Stop Me Before I Volunteer Again” which I wore to the next PTA meeting. I happened to be the PTA President at the time. Excellent team building message, don’t you think?
I said “yes” because saying “no” might have meant someone would be unhappy with me. It made no nevermind if I was unhappy. My own need to be liked was more important than my need to be happy.
And I was not happy. Because I was not allowing myself to be authentically Michele. I was allowing others to determine who I might be. Power, power — who’s got the power? It was anybody but me.
I just re-read a book I’ve learned so much from: The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists by Eleanor Payson. The approach Payson takes in this book — what living with, working with, or being raised by a narcissist does to a person’s self-esteem, coping mechanisms and future relationships — is insightful. But I got something new from my recent re-read — the idea of self-reflection as an indicator of emotional and mental health.
People with a character disorder, such as narcissism, are incapable of self-reflection. I also think people who are sleep-walking through their lives often avoid self-reflection or self-observation because they are afraid of waking up and living fully. Maybe they are afraid of being authentically themselves.
I am here to tell you that self-reflection is the path to authentic living. When you know who you are, how you feel and what you like — not what others want you to be, feel or like — and you live it, that’s authenticity, baby.
There’s an index card on my computer monitor. On it are scratched three simple questions. For me, they are the heart of my own self-reflection.
- Why have I drawn this experience to me at this time?
- What is this experience trying to teach me?
- How can I use this situation to help me be a better person?
I refer to this card so often that these three questions have become my intuitive framework, especially when I am tempted to say “yes” when I really want to say “no”. The opportunity to say “no”, and mean it, often comes to me when I need to remember to keep my boundaries intact. Sometimes, it comes as a chance to help maintain my priorities — and not take responsibility for executing yours. I’ve learned that when I focus on executing other people’s priorities, it’s frequently at the expense of my own.
Every single time I say “no” when I want to say “no”, I reinforce that I am a Self worth being. All by myself. Regardless of whether you like me and my answer to your request, or not. When I stand up for myself, I am standing for my own authentic Me. That is a shift from my old way of being, and it feels really good. It feels like I am expressing my true self.
And, boy howdy, I become a better person when I only say “yes” when I mean “yes”. I do a better job. I’m not overcommitted. I’m more focused. I say “yes” because I really and truly want to do what’s asked of me. Believe me, if I say “yes”, you are going to see and feel my passion.
Being authentically me means that I honor my choices, and I honor my abilities. I’m living my passions. I’m feeling all my feelings. And expressing them. And when I’m authentically me, I make space for you to be authentically you. How? Because it’s perfectly OK with me if you are mad, happy, sad, silly, loving, offbeat, generous, hurt, wacky or meditative. Because I’m all those things, too.