“I’m going to practice saying yes more this year.”
“Oy! That’s a TERRIBLE idea.”
These were the heartfelt responses from my tribe of loving and supportive colleagues.
In their defense, they know that I tend to be tired and overextended. I am a full-time faculty member teaching six composition classes, my family owns a CrossFit affiliate, and I am pursuing my calling as a writer. Oh yeah, and there are the two little humans I am raising. I have clearly said some very big yeses in my life, but my default for the past few years is to say no to everything else. I don’t have to do lunch duty or take on extra projects or accept social engagements because, well, I’m “too busy.”
My friends and coworkers were responding to this side of me. “How can you do more?” They worried I would be creating more stress and spreading myself too thin. I tried to clarify.
“I’m going to work on not saying no to things that feed my soul. I want to be more intentional and less guilt-ridden about saying yes to opportunities of my choosing. Yes by choice, not by obligation.”
They still rolled their eyes.
The truth is we only have so much energy to give in this life. I know that I am happiest when I diversify my identity. My work, play, home and creative lives stimulate and engage me in different ways. I believe they are all tied to my purpose — my why. Therefore, I must occasionally give an intentional, wholehearted yes to each part of me.
My friend and fellow writer, Rosie Molinary, has written at length about honoring our yeses. In her blog post titled “We Must Say No In Order to Say Yes,” she details how to exercise the continuum of wholeheartedness. “I asked myself how I wanted to feel when I was doing something. The answer? WHOLEHEARTED. I really, truly wanted to be in it with my whole heart.”
But it can be tricky.
There is a tendency to say yes because we wonder who in the world will ever do it if we don’t. My good friend reluctantly took on the role of class mom for her daughter’s class. This was a breach of the working mom code. Her reasoning, “They don’t have anyone else to do it.” Not wholehearted! This is guilt and shame-induced behavior. And also a little bit of “the world won’t keep going if I don’t step in to save it.” It’s a trap! I want to avoid saying yes out of obligation to activities or roles that I will dread.
Just as guilt can keep me from saying no, it can also keep me from saying yes. I tend to avoid saying yes when I think it will take me away from my family even for short periods of time. I misinterpret fully present as constantly present. Yet, I am coming to understand that if I honor my yeses and engage wholeheartedly, I’m modeling a life of alignment. My children can see that I am fully present within myself in order to be a better, more conscious person (and parent).
Motherhood is too often associated with self-sacrifice. Moms are expected to deny themselves and put everyone else first. This is not the message I want to send my children. I want them to see their mom as fully human and actively creating and contributing to the world around them. I am an active participant, not a spectator.
A wholehearted yes for me will be making a choice to add to my plate opportunities for personal growth or connection with loved ones. I can consider how I will feel when the time comes to enact my yes.
Will I dread the approaching commitment?
How will I feel while I am doing it?
Will I gain a sense of satisfaction?
Will I give back and help others in a way that aligns with my sense of purpose?
How will I feel once the yes is completed?
I am learning to apply these questions and pause before giving my answer. I need to give a resounding yes or a resounding no. There is no in between.
So far this year, a few of my intentional, wholehearted yeses are:
Attending a writing workshop to kick start my projects for the year.
Running a trail race with my son.
Purchasing tickets to see “Waitress” the musical.
Signing up to host film club at my college.
Going on walks with a good friend.
Planning community service days for my family.
My word for 2018 is CREATE, and part of creating the life I want to live involves carefully curating my schedule and my whole heart. I must own my yeses. My time and energy need to honor my purpose. Choosing when and how to say yes is a way of recognizing and expressing my authentic self. It means I’m free to be me.