I’ve always been the Yes-Girl! I’ve always been the one that responds to a call to action, the one that raises her hand when the question is raised of who will bake cookies for the Christmas bazaar, the one that jumps right in when someone is in need of my time, my money or my moving boxes. Many times, I’ve said “Yes” to things I deeply believed in, like helping refugees get settled in a new and unfamiliar country or pitching in at the construction site for our new church building. If I’m honest I’ve also often said “Yes” to things that left me with an ache in my guts, where I knew almost instantly that I had overextended. I compare it with the experience of pulling a muscle. Oftentimes, you know exactly the moment that you overdid it…you lifted a pot that was too heavy, or made a wrong move getting groceries out of the trunk of the car…you feel the howl of protest from your body in the moment, but you often feel the ache of that movement for a long time afterwards.
The Slippery Slope of Motivation
I’ve always thought that saying “Yes” was equated with being a helpful and selfless person, and in many cases, it is. I want to be someone that doesn’t turn a blind eye to the suffering or needs of others, and with these good intentions, I have certainly helped many people that desperately needed it. The problems surface when I start saying “Yes” for the wrong reasons! When I am more concerned about how my agreement to help will be PERCEIVED by others, and how that perception will fuel relationships that are important to me, I start saying yes with the wrong motivation. When I start people pleasing, I have departed from the noble goal of helping others and am primarily only helping myself!
Where does courage come into this equation? I have learned that the most courageous thing we can do when confronted with requests for help is to ask ourselves whether our willingness stems from an upright desire to help or from a desperate need to be SEEN as helpful. Are we genuinely interested in the task, or can we simply not bear the possibility of disappointing some we care about? Do we have enough resources (time, money, energy) to do the task, or are we going to have to sacrifice in other areas that need more of our attention, for example, our families? These are some tough questions to ask yourself before you respond to a request but learning to courageously say “no” to the good ALWAYS means simultaneously saying “yes” to the great things that are already important to you.
Does this mean that we shouldn’t sacrifice to help others from time to time? Absolutely not! There are moments in life that call us to “dig deep” and say “yes” even when it is totally inconvenient and uncomfortable. The difference, in my experience, is peace. Peace is that calm you have when you know you’ve made a right decision, and it is absolutely irreplaceable as a barometer for (tough) decision making! Can you say “yes” to this commitment and still sleep that night? Can you go help your friend move with a smile on your face and readiness in your heart? Or does the mere idea of actually following through on what you’ve committed to make you grumbly and resentful? This is a great litmus test for the next situation where you will be asked to commit to something, and perhaps instead of saying “yes” instantly, you can employ one of the alternatives below:
Negotiate: When you are not okay with the conditions of the request (ex: the timeline, the intensity), you can offer to help on YOUR terms:
“I’ll be happy to help you, but twice a week is going to be too much for me. Once a week would be fine for me.”
“I can do that for you, but a week is just not long enough for me to get it done. I could have it to you in 10 days…is that okay for you?”
Buy for Time: When you aren’t sure whether you want to say “yes” or “no,” you can ask them for more time to think about your answer. In case the answer ends up being no, you also have time to think up an elegant response and practice it!
“Oh, I’m not so sure about that. Can you give me a day to think about it and get back to you?”
“I’ll have to get back to on that after I’ve talked with … / looked at my calendar.”
When it’s all said and done, it takes great courage to stand up for yourself and not be everybody’s darling! You only have limited time, energy and resources, and it’s worth the effort to analyze what’s most important to you and allow yourself the freedom to pursue that! With the time and energy that’s left over, stretch your hand out to serve others with what’s most important to them.