'Just say no' good for war on drugs - and me

I'm not very skilled at saying no.

I have such a hard time, in fact, that one of my friends/co-workers once suggested a simple remedy if I find myself unable to respond in the negative when asked to do something I don't want to do. I should write "No" on an index card and hold it up.

I know I'm not the only person who struggles with this. And the reasons why I do are many.

First of all, I'm a people pleaser. This is a role many of us - especially women - have been raised to fill.

Need me to do you a favor? Of course!

Want me to pitch in on the fundraiser you just volunteered to lead? It would be my pleasure.

On it goes.

The words were never stated explicitly, but the message I received growing up is that I should not disappoint others, regardless of whether their expectations were realistic.

Then there's the whole concept of reciprocity. I did this for you, so now you need to do this for me.

And so at points in my life I found myself with a list of tasks that I forced myself to complete, despite my lack of desire to do so. Instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment or altruism afterward, I felt resentful and manipulated.

I am not alone.

I've been listening to a podcast interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat, Pray, Love," the newly released novel "City of Girls" and other works. She learned from Byron Katie to offer a simple and straightforward response when she wants to decline requests.

"Thank you, and no."

That's it. No excuses. No elaborate explanation that can be used against her in follow-up requests. When we have checked our inner compass and know that we are not interested in doing what is being asked of us, we should just say no, Gilbert believes.

She said she learned from Martha Beck, a friend of hers and favorite writer of mine, that our inner compass is always right. We don't listen to it because we've been trained to override it by culture and trauma and family and training.


I was simultaneously intrigued and anxious. How will the world function if favors are never repaid? How will anything get done if we can simply say no when we don't want to do something? My heart rate quickened just

thinking about it.

I soon realized my discomfort was arising out of a scarcity mindset. The feelings of desperation that lead to statements like, "What will I do without your help?" are backed by a belief that one person and one person only can provide what is required.

If I stop and take a few deep breaths, I recognize that there is enough - enough people, enough willingness, enough options, enough of whatever is needed to move forward, even when we are told no. Sometimes we just need to look someplace else.

So the next time I'm asked to do something that just isn't right for me to do, I'm going to try to say, "Thank you, and no." If that doesn't work, I'll make sure I have some backup (i.e. an index card and marker) at the ready.

- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. This column was first published May 28, 2020.

Author Bio

Author photo

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean