Updated: Sep 22, 2020
One of the things I do best in life is something no one wants to be the best at: I am really good at letting people walk all over me. Like, super good at it. If being a pushover was an Olympic sport, I might just have a shot at the gold medal. Saying no is something I didn't learn how to do for a very long time, and I'm still learning how to do it to this day. When I was little, I would hang out with kids I didn't want to hang out with all the time just because I didn't have the heart (or better yet, the guts) to turn them down. I don't mean to make it seem like I was mega popular in my childhood and had a never-ending stream of friends calling me up to play, because that was certainly not the case. (Have you seen what I looked like back then? Kids probably thought I was a child librarian-in-training, fully dressed for the part in sweater vests, transition glasses, and frizzy curly hair in the shape of a Christmas tree.) I just didn't always want to have "playdates" with kids that I quite frankly didn't like that much, but my inability to say no forced me to anyway. This isn't the worst thing in the world, for an eight-year-old to spend time with friends that aren't her first choice, but it's the fear of letting people down that grew into a bigger problem as I got older. When someone would ask something of me, I felt like doing it was the only option; a request felt like an obligation, and I thought that saying no would somehow make me a bad person.
The summer before grade twelve, I got a job at Booster Juice. I thought it was my dream job when I applied, but it ended up being quite the opposite. I hated it. It made me unbearably anxious when I was scheduled for the closing shift, which I often was, as this meant working alone for the last four hours of the day with no one to help if an unexpected rush were to hit. And these unexpected rushes happened so frequently that they became very much expected and even more so dreaded. I was also irrationally terrified of somehow getting locked in the walk-in freezer during my solo evening shifts and being subjected to an untimely and unpleasant death. It wouldn't be until the opener arrived the following morning that my blue, lifeless body would be found curled up on the freezer floor. Is that too morbid? These were real concerns for me as a 17-year-old smoothie barista. Don't you know I'm notorious for being an excessive worrier and over-thinker? Even worse than this fear of freezing to death was the possibility of someone I knew coming into the shop, leaving awkward teenager me no choice but to make small talk and serve them as a customer. Is it super uncomfortable if I tell them the total and ask how they want to pay? Do they expect a discount or a free smoothie if we had ever had a single class together? Do they want to act like we don't know each other? To me, this scenario was worse than my freezer death nightmare -- at least in that one I didn't have to suffer through any awkward social interactions -- and I had to live through it many times. This is, unfortunately, what happens when you work at the closest smoothie bar to your neighbourhood during the hot summer months.
If I haven't made it clear, this was not the job for me, so I was relieved that I was only hired part-time; my worries were limited to evenings and weekends. This lasted all of two weeks until one of my co-workers quit and my boss asked me to switch to full-time hours. The last thing in the whole entire world that I wanted was to ruin what should have been a sweet summer of youthful shenanigans by working five days a week in that anxiety-inducing prison complete with an ice chamber of death. But I couldn't say no, especially not to an authority figure. So I spent the rest of the summer making smoothies, mopping floors, and entering the human-size freezer as infrequently as I could possibly get away with. I was pretty unhappy, although I guess in the end that experience prepared me for the reality of working full-time in a not-so-dream job. In other words, it prepared me for this wonderful thing called adulthood. While I believe everyone needs to learn to make their own money and have some sort of responsibility in their youth, I also believe we have our entire adult lives to work and we should not rush young people into full-time jobs as soon as they are old enough. Let them enjoy their childhood and teenhood while they can -- it's all downhill from there!
Moral of the long-winded, could've-just-been-one-sentence story: I can't say no. This has been a trend in my life. Since my Booster Juice days I have: taken a Saturday morning tutoring shift that I really didn't want to take, signed up for countless rewards cards I'll never use, donated to whatever charity the grocery store was supporting even when I could barely afford the grocery bill itself, spent too much time with people that I quite frankly don't enjoy spending time with, and accepted an infant as my own when a woman showed up on my doorstep and begged me take in her child. Just kidding about that one, obviously, although that is something that would happen to me if I ever found myself in such a situation. What I'm trying to say is that my inability to say no has made me do a lot of things I didn't want to do. Not that most of them are a big deal; I didn't become homeless for saying yes to the $2 Children's Hospital donation at the Safeway checkout, and I'm not suffering because of the boatload of rewards cards weighing down my wallet. The point is that I could easily say no to these things, and also to the bigger things that actually do impact my life on a more significant level, and yet I've always felt that no wasn't the right answer. I guess it comes down to being a people pleaser. A people pleaser to a fault. A "yes man" simply because I fear disappointing other people, not because I'm easy going and fun and spontaneous. I wish. I'm an uptight mess! I'm an accidental "yes man" simply because I don't have the guts not to be one!
Now, with the coronavirus shaking up our daily lives and limiting the amount of opportunities we have to say yes to gatherings and events and extra shifts, I have realized how much I enjoy having the freedom to spend time on my own without feeling like I should be making plans, or worse, avoiding plans I was coerced into in the first place and have no desire to follow through with. I always knew I was an introvert, but it is apparent now more than ever. Of course I miss my friends and family, but I don't miss feeling like I have to be doing something all the time. It's kind of nice that not having any plans to see people is not only acceptable but encouraged. Saying no has become the right thing to do; no is kind of the only option right now. And that is pretty dang liberating for a backbone-less lone wolf pushover like myself. I get to be alone 90% of the time and I'm allowed to turn down invites to do things?! It's a recluse's dream! I should add that, like my younger self, I'm still not mega popular and having to turn down invites left, right, and centre. Come to think of it, I don't think I've really had to turn down much at all. But rather than having to actually say no all the time, I think it's the feeling that I have the power to say no that is fuelling me. I don't have to feel guilted into doing anything because there is nothing to be guilted into in the first place! Is it sad that I'm relieved by this? (I would like to note that while I'm an introverted home dweller at my core, I love human interaction as long as I'm surrounded by the right people. I just don't like being forced into social situations, especially ones with people that drain me. I think that's fair.)
I read a quote on Pinterest the other day (so on brand of me!) that said "your life isn't yours if you constantly care what others think." If I'm always worried about letting other people down, I'm just going to end up letting myself down. I'm not saying there aren't times when we should be selfless and do what is right even when it's not what we want, but it's important to know the difference between doing the right thing and unnecessarily sabotaging your own happiness. This time has allowed me to be so selective of who and what I invest my time and energy into, whether that's virtually or in a socially distanced setting, and that is truly freeing. For once, my being picky about how I spend my time is actually okay, and I don't feel like I owe anyone anything. And I've spent my whole life thinking I owed everyone everything. Can you believe it?! I wish I could say it's because I'm a good person and always want to do the right thing, but a lot of the time it's simply because I'm too scared to say no. My hope is for this new attitude to carry into my non-isolated life as the world slowly goes back to normal, reverting into a place where saying no requires real strength because it's not backed up by government-imposed regulations in response to a global pandemic. Oh, COVID-19, how bittersweet you are!
I'd like to think that being a human doormat is something I will continue to grow out of as I get older and become more comfortable with my right to make my own decisions about how I spend my life (who knew that was allowed?!), but for now, this little nudge from the universe to stay home and say no has been refreshing. It feels kind of good. Well, it hasn't been all good; my overthinking habits have exponentially worsened from spending so much time in my head without sufficient distractions from the outside world, my anxiety levels have skyrocketed, and my mood swings are so erratic I'm starting to fear them myself. A burst of positivity and hope at 10:00 doesn't mean I won't be in a flurry of tears and panic at 10:01. But I'm trying my very best to stay optimistic, and I hope you are too. I also encourage everyone to realize how nice it is to say no, especially if you are a blessèd human who has never struggled with saying no in the first place. That is a quality those of us plagued with Pushoveritis would kill to have. Regardless of how strong or weak your backbone is, just take a moment to bask in the great freedom of feeling truly in control of what you do and do not partake in these days (now that you can't really partake in anything). Sometimes it's very sad when you miss your friends and wish so badly you could all hug and share a bowl of cereal again (what? You don't do that? Oh, you think it's weird? Jeez, I never said YOU had to do it), but rather than thinking of all the things you're missing out on that you wish you could do, think of all the things you're missing out on that you would be complaining about and dreading if you did have to do them. I can't decide if this way of thinking is glass half full or glass half empty. Either way, you must be kind of relieved when your old friend Doris calls you up, and you really don't like Doris that much, and you realize you don't even have to make up an excuse this time -- the universe just dropped one in your lap. Talk about a blessing from above!
If you're a super duper extrovert who would hang out with literally anyone on the planet just to not spend one more night alone or with whoever you've been stuck in isolation with, I'm sorry. I can't relate. Consider becoming an introvert? We're a very welcoming and inclusive community and we never gather or really even speak to one another, so there's no need to be intimidated. What are you waiting for? The door is wide open! (Metaphorically, of course. The door is to your own room. Please leave us alone.)