Breathlessly Overcommitting… Again?

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.”

Lesson learned.

Photo credit: ©Arenacreative |

8 thoughts on “Breathlessly Overcommitting… Again?”

  1. Julia Wiklander

    Yes! I am definitely in that space of putting boundaries for myself to be in the best possible position to serve in the best way I can. I think I’ve had to take self-care to “radical levels” (in my opinion) to really make it a priority in my life, because it seems to be the first thing that falls down off the to do list.

    Thanks for this reminder Sharon! Boundaries are so needed in our lives, setting them can just be so difficult sometimes. ❤️

  2. Shamila Zubairi

    Your post comes right in time (again). I’ll write past weekend’s sort below, but here is the synopsis:

    What I am certain about is that, I don’t do this as a favor. I do it for power that I can’t let go. I do it for the significance I feel when the established professionals call me. I do it because I can’t forget the memory of being nobody, with no network, in a foreign country. Now that I have it all, I don’t let go of any of it because I can’t seem to quench my thirst.

    Last Friday morning, within the hours of 9-10 am, I received 2 requests for ‘renderings’ from 2 architects I have worked with in the past. Both requests had a deadline of ‘yesterday’. Please see that this is apart from the 2 companies I already work for (I call those my 1.5 jobs).
    This is not the first time, neither is the speech new to me that I delivered to both parties about explaining that my services would be like building the White House in DC while what they need is a prop of White House in Hollywood. So the cost difference would be enormous. Then I gave them 2 options of people who can do this service for them and would do a better job than mine.

    This should be where it ends, right? But one of them, whom I owe my career, needed this on Monday. So I took it, knowing that my Friday work was already spilling over Saturday. The rendering took Sunday, day and night. When my husband awoke at 6:00am Monday and looked through the glass door of my home office, all I could say to him was ‘don’t ask’.
    As you can imagine what Monday was like for me. It is the most important day of my real job. The reverberations will take the week away.

  3. You are talking to me, Sharon:) For most of my life, I have tried very hard to please others while sacrificing myself in the doing. It is such a trap and one I think many women my age have experienced. It comes from a cultural expectation that women put themselves last. I hope that younger women embrace the power of saying “No” for the sake of their well-being. I have tried to instill this in my daughter. Earlier this year, I decided to set good boundaries. It is a work in process. Thank you for the reminder that I am not alone.

  4. Oh, how this hit home! I spent the entire day today catching up on projects that I’ve overwhelmed myself with. I should have been out working the yard or cleaning. But once I sat down I just had to give it my all. And to make it worse I made a little packet of things to do while half watching TV tonight (when my “workday” is supposed to be over). I’d have thought that in retirement things would be different. I’m going to give myself a talking to and make a plan. Thank you, Sharon for the jump start!

  5. Letting ourselves down for others can be the greatest disability we indulge as women – especially when saying “yes” to others over our own self-interest and well-being. We know this but somewhere down the line it is lost – so you really can’t remind us enough – thank you, Sharon! My 40 year career in Human Resources is and has been most fulfilling but in the care of others there is little time for reflection and restoration of spirit. Since I could never say “no” – I opted to go back to consulting in January of this year, thus giving me the permission to say “yes” to long walks, watching the sun – rise and set, writing, working my garden, and spending more time with myself, my husband, my family and friends. Radical, yes – but this year has taught me, as your post has confirmed – do whatever works for you. Can you hear my spirit singing!!

  6. Oh this is so brilliant, compassionate, and truly relatable, Sharon! I so TOTALLY feel the weight of my yes the moment I say it and carry that around until the actual event/work/commitment. I find people ask us to commit thinking it will be “no big deal” or “not too much prep” but mix not wanting to let people down with performing to our own (sometimes too) high standards and it is a recipe for exhaustion! I LOVE the idea of a “talking to” and shall give myself one, reminding myself of the importance of self-care, next time I am on the brink of a yes — when my heart is saying a big no… So much gratitude for this beautiful much needed post <3

  7. Thank you, Sharon, for reminding me to reread a tiny, yet brilliant book I refer to from time to time. It’s called “Your Power to Say No.” I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed as well so your post was a wake-up call. Thank you so very much.

    ~ Kate

  8. Hi Sharon – thank you for sharing this. I have the same problem, though I’ve gotten much better at saying no. What helps me feel “good” about saying no is that I have clear priorities on how I want to spend my time and the causes I want to support. I know that in order to do a good job in these areas, I not only need to devote a significant amount of time to them, but I also need to take good care of myself so that I am fully present. Taking on “that one more thing” would mean doing a less than optimal job on the issues that are most important to me and letting down the people who matter most to me. The other thing I try to do if someone is really in distress is to help them talk through it to reach another solution. Fairly often, a crisis is not really a crisis and other times, a different approach can resolve the problem with less anxiety.

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