Growing up when I did, I was taught–as were most of my best girlfriends–that women could be anything they wanted to be. It was a great time to be alive, and I feel lucky to have grown up in a household, and in an era, that–for the most part–didn’t put limitations on me because of my gender. Of course, that is not to say that women don’t still struggle–because they do (ahem, glass ceilings, anyone?). No one said it would all be easy, but at the end of the day, I was taught that anything was a possibility if I worked hard enough and set my mind to it. The problem, though, is that while many women are told they can do anything, no one ever told us that we don’t have to do everything.
Women in 2016 are in a state of flux. Growing up in the South, especially, puts a lot of pressure on women to get married young and start families–maybe even before they graduate college. But why? The last time I checked, I don’t have an expiration date stamped on me. I worked hard to graduate college, and have a career, and I have that now. Some women want to be stay at home mothers, and that is one of the most important jobs in the world. Some women pursue both lifestyles as working mothers, you go girl! Anything you want to do as a woman, you should do because you want to, not because you feel like you owe something to society. Listen: you don’t owe anyone anything, and (on that same note) no one owes you anything either.
A lot of times, we can feel like–as women–that we are going to let everyone down if we say, “no.” We’re taught to be strong yet soft, smart yet humble, passionate yet quiet, oh, and a perfect ten, a stylish career woman, a DIY mother, and a vegan crossfitter. The problem is that that “woman” doesn’t exist, and if she does, she is probably completely exhausted from all the pressure and bearing all those heavy crosses. I’m here to tell you, it’s okay to say, “no.” As a self-proclaimed people pleaser, it’s hard for me–probably because I have an inflated sense of self and think everyone in my life is relying on me–I am Little Miss Reliable. What I’m trying to learn is that I can be reliable, and take care of myself at the same time. Life is short, and it is certainly too short to spend doing things out of imaginary obligation to people who would be just fine without you there.
I am in no way advocating that you say “no,” to amazing opportunities at work, or in life, or become a mean or bitter person. The inverse, though, is that by being a “yes!” person, or a “sure thing!” person–which, by the way, is misleadingly associated in the media with being a “positive” person–you can inadvertently create unnecessary stress on yourself. If, for any reason, you have thought about saying “no” to something, there is probably some merit to that thought. If your friends invite you out for drinks for the third time this week, and you don’t want to go, it’s okay to say, “I love you, but no thank you.” You don’t even have to defend your answer. If your co-worker needs you to switch shifts with them so they can sleep in, it’s okay to say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t,” and it won’t make you mean, and it won’t make you a witch.
So, you can do anything you set your mind to, but you don’t have to do everything all the time for everyone, always. Saying “no” gracefully and with a kind heart is a tough practice to master, but I’ll work on it if you do. Let’s learn to say “no” together, and let’s start saying “yes,” to taking care of our bodies, minds, and spirits by creating time for us.