4 tips for saying "I’d love to, but I can’t"
Given our great discussion last week about not saying yes out of fear, I thought this might be a fun post to re-run since these tips have really helped me in that department. It was originally published on June 2, 2008.
A few months ago I told my husband that I was stressed because I’d been asked to get involved in an organization at our parish. “How do I say no?!” I asked him.
He was confused by the question. “Well, start by placing your tongue on the upper soft palate of your mouth, and make an nnnnnn sound…” he said.
I tried this oh-so-simple sounding advice, except when I tried to make that nnnooooo sound, it came out more like Sure, would you like for me to be Director of the organization, or just the Co-Chair and Treasurer? And, oh, can I offer to bring an extra dish to the potluck next week?
After ending up bringing more stress to everyone’s lives by repeatedly getting myself overcommitted with far more responsibilities than I can realistically handle, I sought advice from other women I know who struggle with this. I ended up getting some great tips that have really helped me. I thought I’d share in case anyone else struggles with this:
1. Open up about your situation
When you need to withdraw your involvement from an organization or decline a request that you help with a certain project, don’t feel like you just need to leave it at “no.” Open up about your struggles with frequently overcommitting yourself, and maybe even share some of the ways that trying to juggle too many balls at once has negatively impacted your life.
I’ve found this advice to be surprisingly effective at breaking through tension. I was recently asked to undertake a major web project for a local Christian group. It was a great cause, and they were adamant that they needed my help; yet the scope of the project was way more than I could handle. At first it was a little tense when I had to tell the director that there’s no way I could take on such a project in this phase of life. She didn’t understand the amount of work the project would have meant for me, and seemed to take my “no” as an indicator that I didn’t care enough about their cause. But when I opened up to her about my struggles with chronically overcommitting myself and the negative impact it had had on my spiritual life and my family, she ended up gushing that she had the exact same problem. We were both so relieved to talk to someone who could relate, and there was zero tension at the end of the conversation.
2. Offer to help find someone else (with limits)
This can be a little bit dangerous for people like me, since “I’ll help you find someone else” can often lead into “please go ahead and let me be the de facto organizer of this project.” One suggestion I’ve found helpful in this area is to set a limit for how much time you can spend trying to find someone else, e.g. “I can’t take on this responsibility right now, but I could spend two or three hours this week calling around to see if anyone else might be available.” That way you can still offer to lend a hand, but are upfront about what sort of time commitment you can make in that area.
3. Watch out for pride
A lot of times when I find myself agonizing over having to decline involvement in some organization, when I take a close look at what motivates my angst, I see that it’s two main things: being prideful and controlling. It’s easy for me to slide into the ridiculous mentality that I know how to do the job the “best” or “right” way, and therefore I am the only person on the face of the planet who should even attempt it.
Once when I was agonizing about telling a family member I didn’t have time to do a website for his business, a friend counseled me to remember that maybe — just maybe — the fabric of the universe wouldn’t tear apart if I wasn’t involved in this project. I had to laugh. Sure enough, I had once again let my prideful and controlling tendencies take over, and hadn’t even considered that this family member is a skilled businessman who is more than capable of dealing with a change in plans. Sure enough, he quickly found someone else and had a fantastic website in just a few weeks.
4. Trust God
This is by far the best advice I’ve heard on this topic. There are two sub-points here:
A) Trust that if you are meant to be involved in this project, God will help you do it in peace. Some of the most important advice I’ve heard on this subject is from my spiritual director. She pointed out that our primary vocations are the main way God wants us to serve others, and therefore he would never call us to something that would detract from our work in that department. For example, if you’re a wife and a mother, he would never call you to something that would mean neglecting your marriage or your children, just as he would never call a husband and father to a career path that meant he hardly saw his family, or call a pastor to some project that made him feel resentful of his work at his parish.
Sometimes God does miraculously give us extra time or mental bandwidth to do things peacefully that would seem to be impossible given our state in life — and that’s a good indicator that we’re meant to do those things. But if you find that you continue to feel anxious and stressed about taking on this new responsibility, that even after turning to prayer it’s a drain on you and takes a large amount of time and/or mental energy away from your primary vocation, then you can safely assume that you’re simply not meant to pursue this path and this time.
B) Trust that if God intends for this project or organization to succeed, he will guide it. Trust that he will open the right doors and lead the people in charge to the right resources to make it happen if it’s meant to happen. If it doesn’t succeed, it’s highly unlikely that it’s only because you weren’t involved.
Anyway, those are a few tips that have been a great help to me. Anyone else have any tips?
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