(This was inspired by Dianna's awesome blog about facing your fears)
It used to chafe me when people said I was "nice." For a guy, that usually meant "the guy who didn't get any action." Or, worse, I'd be the ineffective meek guy with glasses who was a pushover. My friend Geo helped me see that "niceness" is actually an asset. As he put it, "Maybe you don't realize that nice guys really aren't that common."
So yes, I am often optimistic and try to see the best in people. And I jump at the chance to help other people, whether it's carry a heavy suitcase, hold a door, help edit an assignment or give someone a ride. Sometimes I'm a little too zealous, like the time I sort of pushed Dianna aside to run to a woman who was on the floor of the subway. The woman on the floor was fine, but Dianna was rightly ticked off.
So sometimes I'm afraid of saying no to people. Some part of this fear is that I love to help people, but there is a selfish part of me that worries that if I say no, something bad will happen. I think that something changes based on the situation - maybe it's getting reprimanded, or being told off, or hurting a friendship or relationship. Or that it reflects bad on me as a person - I'm selfish and can't be bothered with other people.
I always always throw everything that's on my plate aside when other people ask something of me. Yes, there will usually be a nice feeling of accomplishment when I'm done, but sometimes I'll return to my tasks (or relaxation, if I'm not working) frazzled and maybe even a little bitter. This usually passes quickly, but that's not the point: Everyone should be entitled to say no once in a while. We always have demands on our time, and sometimes it's OK for our needs to come first.
This is a hard lesson for me, but I've been working on it. Some examples of this put into practice recently:
- Returning home to RI is always fun but also stressful, as I want to see lots of people in a short amount of time. My mom is on the list, and always requests and expects me to show up. But that's not always possible. Sometimes her Shabbat observance can make it difficult, especially if I need to use electricity or get ready for a party. Or, sometimes I don't have 2.5 hours for a sit-down meal. So sometimes I need to tell my mom no. She doesn't like it, and she gets hurt a little. But I think it's better than promise to come and not make it. Even more, you can't please everyone. And I'll be sure to see her next time and give her the time she deserves.
- In the same category is my main man Geo. I always try and see him, even for a bit, when I'm in town. But this weekend was spent 60% on the road, and 20% sleeping, and the remainder of the time was at a wedding. So I was hoping to see him after we left the wedding, but by 10 p.m. we were beat, and we were going to be on the road by 8:30 a.m. the next day. He was having a poker game at his house, so he couldn't leave, and it was just too much. So I said no. I know that he'll understand, if not now then when I talk to him, and that we're still cool.
- At work, the "never say no" issue is always happening. Usually I can balance everything, but sometimes - hey, I'm human. So recently someone was asking me to help with a project. I liked the person and the work, and knew that it would be interesting. But I had just been assigned a new project that I really liked, and had been wanting for some time. So even though the person wanted me to help, and knew correctly that I could have been a big help, I said no. Per Dianna's excellent suggestion, I didn't offer my usual: "But if you have anything you need help on let me know." I just said no, and knew that I would see them around and that we would still have a good working relationship. And that I would be happy with my new assignment and that they would find a way to keep their project rolling.
So maybe the anti-drug slogans had at least something right after all - "Just say no." To this I'd add a rider: "...Just not all the time."