Friday, December 15, 2006
The Power of No
Having trouble dealing with the demands of the holiday season? Here's a column I wrote last September for the National Association of Baby Boomer Women about setting priorities:
The Power of No
As a writer who works from home, setting boundaries is an issue I deal with on a daily basis. I’ve just returned from a month in the Thousand Islands (see photo above) where I’ve been writing a novel, and what I want most right now is to finish my book. But since I’ve been back, I can’t seem to find the time.
When I was on the island, I had no distractions. In Connecticut, the diversions are endless. I’ve only been here two weeks and have already hosted five groups of overnight guests. I haven’t made any progress on my novel since I walked in the door.
I tell you this not because I think you’re interested in my personal life, but as a cautionary tale. Time is easily frittered away. My book will not get written unless I carve out the hours to write. Your dreams will go unrealized unless you commit to pursuing them. That means learning how, and when, to say no.
The fact is, I know how. (I wouldn’t have been able to write my first book if I didn’t.) I just got out of practice. Yesterday, after listening to myself whine to several people, I decided enough was enough. I vowed to spend from eight-thirty to two each day writing at the library until the book is finished—whether I have guests or not. I also began making it clear to my friends that I’m available for socializing, but only in the late afternoon and evening.
And finally, last night I called my relatives and told them that I’m simplifying the holidays this year. I offered to host a big, family Christmas Eve meal followed by present sharing, but that’s it. If they still want a traditional Christmas Day celebration, I said they could host it themselves and I’d be happy to help. It turns out that no one wants it that much. At least so far.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating canceling the holidays. But I am encouraging you to take a critical look at your life and see how you can pare it down. If you have no idea where to start, here are a few quick tips:
GET CLEAR ABOUT YOUR PRIORITIES. If you were to die tomorrow, what would you regret not doing today? Whether it’s following a calling, spending time with your family, or reconciling with a loved one, that’s what you should put at the top of your list.
MAKE A CONTRACT WITH YOURSELF. If you have a goal, commit a certain number of hours each month toward achieving it. If you want to spend more time with your family, make a regular date with them and put it on the calendar. If you want to reconcile with someone, give yourself a deadline--sooner rather than later.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY NO. Once others understand that your “no” is not personal, most will applaud your resolve. More often than not, they also want to do more of what they love and less of what they don’t. By setting your own boundaries, you give them permission to do the same.
NOTE: I did indeed hold the line on Christmas this year. With much assistance from my family--I'm learning to ask for help--I'm hosting a Christmas Eve dinner for 12 followed by a Secret Santa grab-bag affair. (This probably wouldn't work if I still had young children at home.) I haven't been as successful in going to the library every day.