January 27, 2011

Give and take

We can apply this lesson to nearly anything — work and play, spend and save, want and need. One of the greatest issues people struggle with, especially in a culture where the "We Can Have It All" anthem is blared on metaphorical repeat from the time we are children, is finding balance. So far, one of the most rewarding aspects of getting older is finding balance in my life, one teensy bit at a time.

One of the areas I've struggled most to achieve balance in is saying no and not letting myself be taken advantage of. You know those people who are kind to a fault? Yeah. That's me.

I used to offer my time freely. I was a very helpful person. I was that person you could always count on. It made me feel good. I'd go totally out of my way for someone, bend over backwards, every other helpful cliche you could think of. That was me.

And I got burned.

It got to the point where I had unwittingly surrounded myself with chronic takers. Maybe they didn't mean to, maybe they did. Either way, my life was full of people who had no problem asking for more but gave little or nothing back. It was particularly bad around the time I quit my job to write. So many people felt I had nothing better to do than help them with their junk work.

Eventually, I got burned out. I felt used up, taken for granted. It affected my self-esteem. I couldn't grasp why, when I was being so kind, I kept getting selfishness back. And it wasn't like I was recording everything I'd ever done for anybody and was upset the friendship wasn't reciprocated quid pro quo. It was that I was there, there, there, but when I needed something, even simple things... crickets chirped.

I stopped giving. I stopped doing anything for anyone. Need help? Oh, sorry. I can't. I'm not becoming that person again. It was hard — I hate saying no, and I hate disappointing people, but after a while I began to feel better.

Slowly, I became someone completely against my nature, completely against my beliefs. I was snuffing out one of the best aspects of my personality.

After talking it over with my family and praying, I realized that I needn't change who I was. I needn't fret over the selfish nature of others. What I needed to do was change my reaction. I realized I didn't owe anyone anything, no matter how or how many times they asked. Especially if it wasn't convenient for me.

I've learned to say, "Sorry, that doesn't work for me," and, "I appreciate you thinking of me, but that isn't possible right now," and a couple other stock phrases that help me say no. It sounds cheesy, but when you're grasping for the right words and your nature so wants to blurt out, "Sure!" even though you know you can't/shouldn't, it helps.

I still struggle with saying no. I want so badly to be nice and help out. But I know from experience that if I don't respect my time and talent, others won't either.

Don't let people use you. But don't stopper your kindness, either.


Joseph Rooks said...

Love, love, love this. It's a difficult lesson to learn, and I think most of the advice people give to this problem along the way is head-smart but fails to address the issues of the heart: Do you love yourself and value your time with the same respect and courtesy that you give to others?

Or, as I learned it, loving myself means appreciating the things I do the same way I would if someone else did them for me.

That's absolutely one of the most important lessons for an independent (freelancer, writer, whatever) to learn. I'm glad you decided to share it!

Pam Harris said...

Great post! I used to have a very hard time saying no, too, but I recently had to teach my students a lesson on being assertive. I actually learned something from that activity! I'm able to say no now without giving excuses--but it still bugs me a little. :)

Aleeza said...

I've never had a difficult-to-say-no sydrome, since im not really an extremely selfess & helpful person by nature, much to the dismay of my mom. hehe.
but i love how you managed to overcome that issue and found who you are.
great post, abby! :)

Hannah Jenny said...

Oh yes! This sounds a bit like what I am sometimes

Of course, right now I'm in a time in my life where most important things in my life are obligations to other people in one sense or another (teachers, friends, family)--which means that I can use that impulse to its own downfall: if I say yes to this one more thing, I won't be able to pull through as well as I should for so-and-so that I already said yes to!

I have yet to find out whether I can handle saying no entirely for myself . . . except that I've realized that as an introvert I am not allowed to completely skip my time alone! (it makes me crazy!)

The Blue Lipstick Samurai said...

Lovely post. Just a tinge sad, but I think that's the mark that you're a great writer: take something hurtful or painful and present it so the world wants to read it.

<3 Just remember the blunt 'Sure!' when some Super Special Awesome Agent asks to represent MAGGIE.

Yahong Chi said...

It's great that you've learned to say no, and it's great that you learned how to say yes again. Congrats, Abby!

Emy Shin said...

I adore this post!

I don't think I'm very kind, but I am one of those people who don't know how to say "no". I haven't been burnt as badly as you have (I'm so sorry you had to go through that), but I've definitely felt used and burnt out and taken for granted. I struggle to say no, but I think it's a lesson I need to learn, over and over.

Abby Stevens said...

Joe -

Loving myself means appreciating the things I do the same way I would if someone else did them for me.

This is so, so true. I find it easy to shrug off my time (and talent), but I've learned you really can't do this - if you want others to respect you, you must respect yourself. Which doesn't mean you can't give, but it does mean you need to be mindful of how much of your energy you give and to whom (and how much they appreciate it, too).

Pam - I remember when you blogged (or maybe tweeted?) about giving the students a lesson on assertiveness. I have a problem with tact (which I think is necessary to be assertive). I have trouble comfortably saying no (which is why I use phrases like the ones listed above) so a lot of times I end up saying yes even though I don't want to, then if someone's being a jerk or wanting too much from me, I get really angry because I didn't want to do it in the first place. Definitely not good, but I'm working on it!

Aleeza - Your comment made me laugh! Thanks so much!

Hannah - It is difficult when you are at that point in your life where you must give, give, give, and it seems like everyone wants a piece of you. I understand what you mean about needing time to yourself, except for me, I need time just my husband and I to recharge. I go crazy if I have someone underfoot for too long. I'm a textbook introvert, too!

Glenna - Your compliments are my favorite in the blogosphere! Don't worry, I won't have any problem saying SURE! to the right agent!

Yahong - It's great that you've learned to say no, and it's great that you learned how to say yes again. This is just so concise and beautiful, it sounds like some kind of Confucian philosophy!

Emy - It's a lesson I have to learn over and over, too. I've gotten so far, but I think it'll always be something I struggle with. There are worse things to struggle with, though, so I am grateful!

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