It has become very clear to me over the years that when there is a lesson I am meant to learn, and I do not learn it, opportunities to do so present themselves again and again. The lesson that has been circling back to me recently is the one about overcommitting myself, especially in situations when someone asks me for help.
Last month, a woman whom I respect asked a favor. She said that it wouldn’t involve much time and that she would help me. Everything inside me said “I cannot do one more thing” and even though I was hearing those words in my mind, I did not even consider saying “No.” Instead, because I genuinely respect this woman and her work, I thought about how I could somehow find the time to help her. She is not a family member. She is not a friend. She is not even close acquaintance. I make these points because we have all overcommitted when it involves helping family, friends, and close acquaintances. Of course we do. This was something else.
So in the end, of course, I reluctantly said “yes” because I did not want to let this woman down. From the moment I spoke that “yes” I could feel the weight of the commitment, and I felt it for the three weeks leading up to the thing I had agreed to do.
For reasons of her own, none of which she relayed to me, the woman did not help me and I was left to do the entire project myself. It was a lot of work and required many hours that I had committed to other priorities. I admit to having felt frustrated and annoyed with myself. And then, in a moment of clarity, these words came to mind, “Ah! Hello again.” That old lesson landing once again in my life. I had to look myself in the eyes, standing in front of the mirror and ask, “Why did you need to learn this lesson again?”
I do not like to let anyone down. I never want to let anyone down, and this has led to a life-long pattern of over-committing and, in doing so, letting myself down. So yesterday I decided that I needed to write yet another post about saying “no” when the person asking only wants to hear “yes.” I considered the advice that I often give to others when they talk to me about overcommitting, the advice that I only infrequently follow myself. My first thought when someone asks me to do something to help them is never what I advise others to do – ask myself, “Is this request more important than the commitments I already have this week/month?” This is a much better question than my default question, “How can I find time to do this for her/him/them?”
My beloved Mom had a great expression that she used often. Mom would say, “I gave myself a talking to” and while I never actually saw Mom give herself “a talking to,” I have no doubt that she actually stood in front of the bathroom mirror and spoke words of encouragement (or admonishment) when she felt she needed them. Mom was, I know, smiling down at me earlier today when I gave myself a talking to. It went something like this…
“Sharon Kathryn, you love your life. You love the things you do. You do some version of what many people would call ‘work’ most of your waking hours most days, and you love it. But you also love to sleep, and read, and dance, and go for walks. You like to do all of these things and they are important. They are part of your self-care and you are doing them less and less because you are saying “yes” to others far too often.”
I am writing this today because I do not want to have to look into that mirror again, breathlessly overcommitted, after having said “yes” when what I really wanted to say was, “Oh, I can’t do that for you now.”
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