The Power of No
No. Single syllable. Two letters. Perfectly rounded sound. A one worded complete sentence. A word that says everything. Yet, a word that bares the weight of expectations, perceptions, and judgement. Why is it is so hard for us to say no when we really want to? Why do we feel we have to say yes when we don’t want to? We have all been there. Whether it is at work or outside of work, saying no can feel like walking the plank towards exile beach. At work, it can be seen as us not being “team players” (I hate that expression by the way). With partners or friends it can be interpreted as us being uncompromising, difficult, unsociable.
Personally, I love the word no. Even when my son tells me no after I have asked (told) him to do something. When he says no, as annoyed as I feel, I respect his courage to push back. I was like him when I was his age. And then I grew up where saying no became more difficult. Especially when I didn’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings. Saying no at home when I was a young adult meant going against parental expectations by living my life by my own rules (practically blasphemous in an Indian family). Then there is the workplace. An emotional minefield where all our insecurities are brought to the forefront as we desperately try to bury them beneath layers of “professionalism”. Until, as it was the case for me, saying no meant saying yes to my health and wellbeing. Saying no also meant saying I knew what was best for me.
Saying no has consequences. For me, it meant being deemed difficult and frozen out of opportunities at work that might have come my way. In my personal life it meant having some very uncomfortable and difficult conversations with my parents, and if you come from a relatively conservative ethnic family, those conversations are bloody difficult. But, saying no also clarifies things. While saying yes when we don't really want to muddies our emotional waters, saying no clears them. Saying no, and feeling good about it, means we are aligned with our values and are willing to live accordingly. Susan David writes in Emotional Agility, “When you connect with your real self and what you believe to be important, the gulf between how you feel and how you behave closes up. You begin to live your life without as many regrets and without as much second-guessing.” Saying no is that raft that helps you close that gulf. It was for me. From the moment I started to say no to things that weren’t right for me, I felt stronger and more determined to live according to what was right for my values, my health, my path. I started to guide myself to those things, people, and opportunities that would elicit a resounding 'yes!' from me.
Anna Holmes writes in The Atlantic (which I have included in this week’s #Repost), “Successful women of color are expected to obligingly—obsequiously, in fact—say yes as a way to demonstrate gratitude for successes we’ve earned on our own. If people of color have to, as the old adage goes, work twice as hard and be twice as good to succeed, the women of this cohort must contend with an additional tax: We must also be twice as accommodating, as if to thank others for allowing us our accomplishments.” So when Naomi Osaka opted out of doing press conferences during the French Open citing it was to protect her mental health, she received alot of flak for saying no to what was always, seemingly, routine. Organisers at Roland Garros were up in arms wondering why this young tennis player would even think of changing the rules to suit her? My question is, why shouldn't she, especially if it protects her health and game in the long run? Lindsay Crousewrote in the New York Times, "(Osaka) was sending a message to the establishment of one of the world’s most elite sports: I will not be controlled.This was a power move — and it packed more punch coming from a young woman of color. When the system hasn’t historically stood for you, why sacrifice yourself to uphold it? Especially when you have the power to change it instead."
I remember when I said no to the president of the company for which I once worked, he looked at me as if to say, ‘how dare you. How dare you disobey me.’ He never asked me why I was saying no, he never cared about the answer when I offered my reason to him anyway. I didn't say no out of spite or rebellion. I said no because it was right for me to say no. I said no after much soul searching and self debating. I walked away from that meeting thinking I was about to get fired, that my career at that company was over. It wasn’t, but that experience was invaluable to me. I learned the power of no. I learned the power of me.
The beauty of getting older is not just the accumulation of experiences. The beauty of getting older is that we get to know ourselves better. I have often called growing older as the process of elimination—eliminating what doesn’t work for us anymore. And our lives become rich and full bodied—filled with stories of lessons learned. That’s what we can expect from the next (and supposedly final) instalment of the Sex and the City franchise aptly called And Just Like That. You’ll find a Vogue interview with its star Sarah Jessica Parker in this week’s #Repost. With age comes a deeper understanding of what is right and what is wrong—not just a deeper understanding but also a courage that comes with fighting for what is right. That’s what cricketer Azeem Rafiq has been doing—calling out the racism that was rife at Yorkshire Cricket. You’ll find an article written by sports journalist Mihir Bose for The Guardian on how the sport in England refuses to reconcile with its archaic and ignorant actions. This week’s #Repost also has a wonderful interview with Brett Goldstein, the man who plays Roy Kent (my favourite character) in Ted Lasso. The talented actor brings the moody man to life with the words he not only acts but also writes as part of the team of talented writers for the award-winning show.
Sometimes though, saying no just isn’t enough. Sometimes, people don't listen or respect our nos and try to push our boundaries in order to get their yes. Sometimes, what is needed is a simple two word sentence that embodies all the emotion and energy required to communicate exactly what you mean. Personally, I like to take a page from Roy Kent and say “Fuck Off.”* Monita xo
*I should add that that might not be best in the workplace, or with parents. Just saying....