Last week tested my ability to say "no". To do so firmly, not cushioned in apologies or counter-offers. It's something that doesn't come easily. In relationships, I'm often a giver, often a yes-woman. Very often, I lead with giving too much, only to have to pull back later. Often, also, I feel like I don't deserve something better -- putting my foot down seems like a luxury somebody like me hasn't earned, that I really should be grateful and compliant. I know that's wrong, but that's often the feeling the springs up.

I think we also have this sense that saying "yes" is the key to success, to opportunity and advancement. We think "no" means we're afraid, that we have some kind of mental block to progress, that we're missing out on something. We think of "yes" as a powerful, positive response, one that will lead to things unforeseen beyond what's immediately apparent. We think that "yes" is the key to going somewhere new.

But "no" is not the opposite of that. It too can hold its own world of promise. In saying no to one thing, we're actually saying yes to many more options, to staying open-concept instead of locking down. No can also be a word that rescues us from situations that stress and restrict. From people who manipulate and bully. No can be a refusal to be controlled or coerced or mistreated. Yes often involves surrendering some autonomy; no often means refusing to do so.

Still, people don't take no well. Some won't take no for an answer. We women know this only too well and we're usually well practiced in saying no in certain areas, to unwelcome advances, for instance. But saying "no" at work, or no to a friend can test a different kind of resolve. And when somebody really wants you to do something they'll make you say no repeatedly. They know it's difficult to reiterate something that was hard to say in the first place. They know you're likely to lose some footing, to find a way of softening the blow.

For me, saying "no" now comes from a sense of not enough time. I don't want to dick around anymore. Of course, this doesn't mean that I'm becoming ungenerous or solely self-promoting. (And, of course, feeling the need to make that qualification shows just how hard-sounding "no" can be to me). But "no" can be nice, it can be simply plain, it can even be kind to others and oneself. And when it needs to be hard, well, that's probably when it needs to be its most adamant.
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