Breast cancer took so much from me; my breast, my self-confidence, my health, my comfort, my feeling of safety and more. But one thing I decided I wasn’t going to let it take from me is my professional credibility. I pushed through the terrors of side effects from chemo and radiation and continued working throughout. I wrote periodic emails to employers letting them know how well I was doing and that I would happily accept any work that they through my way (with some restrictions, of course). I didn’t want people to see me as sick or incapable. I had worked so hard to make a good name for myself, I didn’t want all of that work to go to waste because of cancer.
For the last two years, I said yes to as much work as possible. In a way, I hid from my cancer at work. At work, I was so focused on my participants and students that I forgot about cancer. At a time when I cried every day for fear of recurrence or because I was mourning my past pre-cancer life, work was a respite from my emotions and fears. It worked for a while but by the end of June this year, I started to burn out. I started procrastinating (more than usual) and didn’t want to do my lesson plans or prep work. I dreaded going in each day if I wasn’t fully prepared. I tried to find short cuts.
This is not me. I am an over-achiever. An A+ students. I don’t do things half way. I knew something had to change.
This summer, I planned on all of the things I was going to do for myself; see shows, movies, go to museums, take up the cello again… But work took up more time than I anticipated. The time I was going to take for myself was spent in preparation for working with very new immigrants. The work was great, fulfilling. I am proud of the work that I did with them. I made a difference in their lives and learning. But, I didn’t do the things that I said I’d do for myself. There was no self-care.
As soon as I finished this job, the offers for fall work started coming in and it seemed that they wanted answers fast. My heart started racing. I felt panicked. I chose to take some time for myself, go on vacation with my family, turn on my away message and meditate on what it was that I really wanted for myself.
Ah, there’s the problem. What I really want for myself.
You see, I’m a people pleaser. I want people to be my best friend, to see me as important, invaluable, easy to work with. If it will make someone else happy or make their life or job easier, I will say yes even if it doesn’t bring me joy. That’s how I roll. That’s my mojo.
But as I approach 40 and after having endured cancer and raising a child, I’m starting to look at my life and wonder, what have I done for me lately? What am I doing that feeds me, that challenges me, that makes me happy, that teaches me? And the answer is, not a whole lot.
I love my work. I mean, I LOVE MY WORK! I don’t want to start hating it but if I keep saying yes to the kinds of work that don’t bring me joy just to get the paycheck, to make my employer happy, to work with a difficult group that no one else will work with even if it makes me miserable…that’s it. I’ll burn out completely. And then what?
So, I’ve made a big decision. This really is huge for me. I have decided that this year is going to be the year of “no.” It makes me anxious just to write it hear but I feel like I need to learn how to start saying it.
Already this year, I’ve said, “no” to going back to a school where I was undervalued. I’ve said no to work that was too far away from home. I’ve said no to working with new organizations so I wouldn’t spread myself too thin (this was a hard one for me). These “no’s” have been terrifying for me but I always hear about people saying no to things that don’t fulfill them and then, suddenly, they leave room for all of the opportunities that bring them joy. That’s what I want for myself.
So, when I say that this is the year of “no,” what I’m trying to say is that I want to say yes to myself. I want to leave room in my life for new experiences, to master a new skill, to take in some art, to make my health a priority, to be home to give my son dinner every night, to have some time for myself and to start serious work on my passion project (have you seen the post below and filled out the survey?).
Saying no to others will never be easy for me. It just won’t. I’m always afraid I will burn a bridge. But I need to start doing it. I need to grow. I need to shape this “new normal.” I hate thinking about that but I’m done fighting for the person I used to be. She’s gone. And as I shape my new self and my new life, I want it filled with joy.
I read this great article about the power of no. Have you read it?
I found a bunch of memes and quotes and I couldn’t choose just one. Sorry. No, I’m not. I love them!