Learning to say no

I have been reasonably settled in the last few years – more so than I have ever experienced before. One of the things I have enjoyed in being settled has been the capacity to step up into positions of service which I wouldn’t have taken on before. I wouldn’t have taken them on because I couldn’t guarantee that I could see them through.

Not one of them is particularly onerous. Each costs at most 10-15 hours a month. But when I look at all of them together suddenly I realise that I am adding an extra 40-60 hours to my schedule. Perhaps more importantly for me – these kinds of commitments occupy maybe two to three times that in mental space.

I have felt both pressurised and a bit knackered in the last six weeks or so and haven’t been able to work out what was going wrong. Then I remember that the other major challenge this year has been the launch of ‘Rooted in Love’. Being both highly introverted and coming from a culture which frowns on self-promotion, trying to promote the book I have written is not exactly within my comfort zone. It has been something of the perfect storm of fatigue.

With a little distance – I recognise the problem, or at least a part of the problem – it is the mental/emotional equivalent of ‘death by a thousand paper cuts’.

Okay – so the ‘death’ bit is a tad melodramatic. But it has really got me thinking about the next few years. Up until now the temptation to take on too much has been moderated a little by the fact that I haven’t stuck around too long in any place. There really is only one option – learning to say no.

My Ignatian roots tell me that I need to learn to let go of those things which are seemingly good to make room for that which is better. I have learnt to apply that to my life in terms of the big decisions like whether to take a particular job or not. But I think I am entering a new era where I need to learn to apply that to the smaller choices, like whether to sit on a committee or not.

I feel like I need that to be tattooed on my right hand so I never say yes when I should say no. Maybe for now my rule for thumb should be to take 24 hours before I agree to anything which will have sustained demands. That way I can guarantee it’ll have to go through at least one decent prayer period and a spot of discernment before I make a commitment.

My challenge for the next few weeks will be choosing which activities I need to let go of.

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