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Written by Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley of My Little Poppies.
I am someone you can count on.
A good girl.
When I set my mind to do something, you can bet I’m going to do it well. And if you ask me to help you with something, you can be doubly sure that I’m going to knock that ball clear out of the park.
It’s in my blood to help the heck out of things. Ask me to give you a hand and of course I’ll say yes. It’s what I do…
… well, it’s what I used to do.
The Year of Nope
I was born a helper. To me, there is little in this life more satisfying than helping another. It feeds my soul.
There are benefits to being a helper, the biggest of which is that whole karma thing. If you throw out goodness into the universe, it tends to come flying back at you at some point.
Mine came flying back in the form of fantastic friendships. I am surrounded by an army of givers, selfless helpers who will drop what they are doing to lend a hand. They are good girls and they can help the heck out of things.
One of these friends inspired a change in me this year.
You see, I signed on for too much helping this year. I said yes because I truly wanted to help. Every cause was a worthy one. It’s hard to say no, especially when it’s something you believe in.
And so I said yes too many times.
At first, it felt good. I was happy doing what I do best: helping.
But I should have known that you can’t help the heck out of all the things at the same time. I was stretched too thin. I felt scattered and stressed out. Still, I muddled through because I thought things would get better in a week… or a month.
Well, they didn’t. And then the worst happened: I got burned out.
No one can run full throttle all the time. My tank was empty and do you know who had to bear the brunt of my burn out? My family.
My world felt extraordinarily off-balance.
On the outside, everything looked fine. I was helping the heck out of things elsewhere. The problem was, I was giving so much elsewhere that when I was at home, safe, I had nothing left.
I felt like a cruddy wife and mom and homeschooler. And that felt horrible because if there is anywhere on earth that you want to succeed at helping the heck out of things, it’s at home.
One night, during a moms’ night in, the friend that I mentioned earlier said something that changed my path.
She said that, when she hit forty, she stopped. She had spent her entire life being a good girl and helper and she decided she’d given enough. She started saying no to more and the world went on spinning. She described the feeling of freedom and happiness.
She said she wished she had started sooner.
As I drove home that evening, I kept replaying her words in my mind. And I realized that, at 37-years-old, I could start now.
The Problem with Yes
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a helper. If your helping is feeding your soul, you must keep on keeping on.
The problem with being a helper stems from the expectations.
If you are fantastic at helping the heck out of things, people notice. If they see you helping again and again and again, they start to expect that you will always help.
Also, there are your own expectations to contend with. Being a helper is part of your identity. (Not to mention the fact that helpers sometimes struggle to ask for help when they need it most!)
Here’s the thing: being a helper isn’t the only part of your identity. It’s just one snippet. You cannot let one aspect of your identity take over everything else.
When I said yes to all the things this school year, I lost a bit of myself in the process.
Once I realized this, I reassessed those yeses.
The Joy of Nope
When I assessed my yeses, I discovered that sometimes I said yes:
- before considering all of my other yeses
- because I knew I could do a good job
- because no one else would say yes
I also realized that I continued to say yes to things that were no longer a good fit for me.
Assessing my yeses was eye-opening. If I had to choose one word to define our entire school year, it would be YES.
This reaffirmed my need to follow my friend’s advice and to just stop. I was going to embrace my 40s a few years early.
Right then and there, effective immediately, I declared it to be The Year of Nope.
This was going to be the year of staying true to my family and myself.
Yes, I think you are an awesome human being…
Yes, your cause is amazing…
Yes, it’s a great idea…
Yes, someone totally needs to do that…
… but: NOPE!
Immediately, I felt a weight lifted. I was determined to get started. At first, saying nope was challenging. I felt bad as I was saying it, but afterward, I felt proud of myself. And, if we’re being completely honest, there was an element of joy involved.
I’m going to share a secret: sometimes, saying nope feels pretty darn good!
I even quit something. I have never quit anything in my life but I quit something this year. It was something I believed in yet had outgrown, and the time I was spending on this something was having a negative impact on my family. It was something I had thought about quitting before, but quitting was just not in my nature.
Luckily for me, another dear friend helped me reframe the situation. She told me to step outside of myself and to focus on all I had given. This helped me to make the right choice for my family. Saying the words and then walking away felt awful, but I haven’t regretted the decision for a second. Why? Because suddenly I had enough space for the most important thing: family.
How to Get Your Nope On
Do you need a Year of Nope, too? Here are some tips:
- Give yourself permission to say nope
This is perhaps the hardest step. You can still be an empathetic giver and say no. It is possible!
- Set boundaries and stick to them
Assess your current situation. Are you saying yes to things that fill your soul, or are you saying yes without thinking? Set boundaries and stick to them. After a few years of too many yeses, I decided that the main focus of my Year of Nope is on my family, homeschooling, and work that I find fulfilling. Anything outside of that is a big fat nope.
- Be direct and honest
Honesty is the best policy. Yes, saying no can be challenging at first but you can do it. It might be helpful to have a few phrases in your toolbox to get you started:
- Thank you for thinking of me, but I cannot commit to anything else right now.
- Thanks for asking, but I’m not doing any volunteering this year.
- Thank you, but it’s not a good fit for our family right now.
- Don’t apologize
The helper in you is going to want to apologize but don’t. You are simply choosing your causes and staying true to yourself. There is no apology required.
- Take care of yourself
It’s the age-old oxygen mask scenario. You cannot give to others unless you take care of yourself. By saying no to requests that are not a good fit for you right now, you are taking care of yourself… and those around you.
You can still be a giver and say no, folks. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Recommended Reading for The Year of Nope
Here are just a few phenomenal books to fill your soul during The Year of Nope:
Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are by Shauna Niequist
Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry by Katrina Kenison
The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir by Katrina Kenison
The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica N. Turner
Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy by Alli Worthington