About saying no (but really, more about saying yes)

I’ve had this blog post brewing in the back of my head for a while now. I wanted to share some thoughts on the theme of saying “no” – whether to the party one doesn’t want to go to, to stressing too much, to conforming to ideals or to any other thing that just doesn’t feel right. And as I set out to draft this piece, I started out by typing that I’m such a people pleaser and that I have an incredibly hard time saying no to stuff, no matter what they are. But then I realized – heck, I’ve changed! While that used to be my thing – being constantly buried in things I deeply dreaded but had committed to – I don’t think I live life that way anymore. I’m not sure I have the words to convey exactly how powerful this insight feels to me, to be honest. My almost compulsive, consuming yes-saying has certainly taken its toll on me over the years, and sitting here now, slowly realizing I’ve actually taken on a different behavior… that’s quite powerful in my world. And just so you know – if I could get my butt out of that pattern, you can. I used to be (until a few minutes ago, apparently) the indisputable superstar of saying yes to all things burdensome and no to all things enjoyable. I’ve chosen so many things over the years because I thought others expected it from me. I’ve made so many decisions based on what I thought others wanted. I’ve said yes to so many things I didn’t want to do and silenced my inner voice screaming so many times, I’m surprised it’s still talking to me. But it is (that in itself is a miracle, no?). They say you should treat yourself as if you were your own best friend, and in that case, I’ve been one shitty example of a friend. Somehow though, I’ve been able to reconnect with myself, reach out a hand and say ‘I’m sorry’.

I used to be the indisputable superstar of saying yes to all things burdensome and no to all things enjoyable.

Just like most of us, I fumbled my way through childhood and adolescence. Sidetracked by illusions of what and how things “should” be, knocked over by harsh realities and overall completely unsure of who the heck I was and wanted to be, it seems an understatement to say I was lost for many years. I feel fairly certain I’m in good company here, with most people feeling similarly for at least some parts of their lives. So now, at 31 years old, what has been figured out – really? When pondering this, there’s one thing in particular that stands out. One thing that has clicked for real (among all the stuff that’s… half-clicked), and one that I treasure dearly. And that is that now, I not only know what I love in my heart, but I have the courage and overwhelming desire to choose it. I want to say I think this is closely connected to the aforementioned art of saying yes versus no, and finding your balance within it. When you don’t quite know what you love, how you would want to spend your time, what truly makes your heart feel full and in what contexts you thrive, it’ll obviously be difficult to make the choices that will facilitate more of all the good stuff and less of the not-so-good. Right? So to me, that really is step one – figuring out what matters to you. I think I had to go through my fair share of hardships to fully understand what that is to me. I think life had to happen, I think years had to go by, I think it had to be dark at times for my priorities to become clear. But they did, eventually. Crystal-clear, even. It’s been said a million times before, but when we say no to one thing, we say yes to another. Obviously, this works the other way around too. When you start making decisions and choices based on your heart’s true desires, they tend to turn out pretty good, don’t you think? With that in mind, I try to say yes to everything that will mean more time for the things I hold dearly, and no to anything that threatens my integrity. Easier said than done, absolutely, but practice makes perfect. Or as that saying goes in Swedish… practice generates competence. Choose your favorite.

Ringing in my 30’s in New York, just about to clock out from “normal” life and move to the Swedish countryside.

Obviously, I’m not saying no to every little thing that doesn’t resonate with me. I think that’s part of being human – and wanting to be an empathetic such – to want to help, to want to be there for others, to show up if someone needs you. But then on the other hand, those commitments certainly won’t feel as heavy burdens, right? They’ll be full of gratitude from the recipient, and they’ll fill you up with joy because you made someone else’s day a little brighter, a little better. No, I’m more referring to the times when you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, when you’re being asked to do one too many things, when you need to sacrifice your own health, when your stress load becomes endlessly bigger than your time for decompression. I think I’ve come to approach it almost as if I compare the ‘negative’ effects for me to the positive for the other person (or whatever it is you’re saying yes/no to) – if my burden seems massive but the win for someone else is limited, maybe it’s time to pull out and say no. On the other hand, if your sacrifice is quite minimal but it’ll generate endless joy for someone else… that’s when you just buckle up and do it. To me, this is a pretty helpful ‘tool’ in navigating the art of trying to stay true to yourself.

When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer almost exactly one year ago, I didn’t really feel as if I changed fundamentally. That never even crossed my mind. It was all about my mom, obviously. But looking back, it’s becoming clear to me that I did. While I think some changes had been in the making for a while, the cancer diagnosis was the event that propelled me forward fast. When hair was falling off and food couldn’t be swallowed, all I could think about was how unfair life was. What had we done to deserve this heavy of a burden, this scary of a year, this pain in our hearts? The answer to that will probably never be spelled out for us. But maybe – if we look closely enough – we can take a stab at guessing. I’m by no means glorifying receiving a cancer diagnosis in the family and we’ve been infinitely, endlessly, remarkably lucky to get through it without losing anyone. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. But if you survive, I think most people with similar experiences would agree if I say it brought pain and suffering for sure, but also change. Change for the better.

I feel like I’m a walking and talking cliché sometimes these days, but I really, really try my hardest to appreciate all the little things in life.

I feel like I’m a walking and talking cliché sometimes these days, but I really, really try my hardest to appreciate all the little things in life. The sunrise, the moon, the food we grow. My feet and legs for allowing me to run. Michael, for more reasons than I can list here. Chocolate, mountains, books, seasons, our house, a crackling fireplace. And my mom, above all. I feel so god damn rich, having so many beautiful things around me. And that’s true even though we’re living life on a tight financial budget – lesson of the year: money means if not nothing, at least very little after all. Cancer initially ripped a big hole in my chest, but in the end, I think it made my heart grow bigger. More vulnerable, more sensitive, more fragile. But bigger all the same. And nothing makes me be happier than seeing the same changes in my mom. The sincere gratitude towards life that I feel is by no means something I’ve carried for most of my life (I wish I had!). It’s definitely a more recent thing, and I think it’s what ultimately has made it possible for me to say no to things I don’t want to do. Life is too precious to be wasted.

Picking wildflowers has been one of my favorite things ever since I was a little girl.

So what are we saying yes to, Michael and I? So much! We’re saying yes to alarm clock free mornings, yes to being in charge of our own daily schedules, yes to going for a 3 hr. midday run on a Thursday because that’s when the elusive November sun decided to come out. Yes to living stress free, yes to time growing our own food, yes to eating home cooked meals every day. Yes to spending all of our time together, yes to pursuing running for real, yes to learning about new stuff. And yes to only surrounding ourselves with people that we love and thrive around. I’m also saying yes to listening to my inner voice (even though it mumbles sometimes, and lacks valid arguments often), to not caring too much about the flourishing careers of others, to going to bed on Sundays without dreading Mondays. Among other things. We obviously also say no to a lot – especially things us humans have come to think of as ‘necessary’ or nonnegotiable (but we’re living proof that’s not true). No shopping sprees around here, for example, and no buying lunch out. No expensive habits in general, except going skiing. No titles to brag about, no paychecks to flash, no promotions to post to social media.

What’s so amazing is that we can all puzzle our lives together as we please – a little no here and a little yes here, sacrificing some stuff in order to make honest dreams come true – and there you go. I think we’re so stuck in how things need to be that we often fail to see the potential to create what would really make us happy. Now, we don’t have it all figured out. We don’t really know how we’ll provide for ourselves financially in the future, but we trust it’ll all fall into place. And a good thing with scaling down and living simply is that your expenses drop (naturally), so no big numbers are needed to keep our little machinery going around (as long as there’s plenty of food, we’re good).

Skiing in Colorado (a dream come true!). One of our most beloved hobbies.

Before I let you go, I wanted to address one last thing: friendships. At a few points in my life, I’ve cleaned up among my friends. It hasn’t always been pretty and it certainly hasn’t been easy, but for me, it was an absolute necessity. See, I never understood you could choose your friends or the people you surround yourself with. That didn’t click until very recently (but boy that was an awesome click!). Whether I was a victim of circumstances or victim of myself, I’m not sure, but I’ve definitely attracted my fair share of crappy so-called friends over the years. With a few exceptions, I lived my first 20 years thinking that friends… stink. In retrospect, I’ve become painfully aware of how weak I must have come across as a child. I was so unsure of who I was and really only sought to please, which made for a terrible equation – I ended up being bullied, but in one sneaky kind of way. I was a part of a group of four girls from 6thto 9thgrade, and all the while we spent all day in school together and others viewed us as inseparable, they were truly poisonous. I was by no means exposed to the worst form of bullying, but I was slowly and effectively broken down all the same. Because I never said anything but just let them be, they would take it upon themselves to push the limits a little more every day, probably too curious to see when I would start standing up for myself to resist it. Well, I never did. I had them tell me my clothes were ugly, my family weird, my body wrong in every way possible. It was always something, and I just swallowed it. Oh, and speaking of swallowing – there was also that time during lunch break, when they poured a ton of salt in my glass of milk when I wasn’t looking – I think you can imagine how that went down – yet I didn’t say a word. I’ve opened up here on this blog previously – I’ve mentioned eating disorders and whatnot – yet revealing this scares me more than anything else I’ve so far shared. I feel deeply ashamed to tell you what they did, as if the burden and wrongdoings are entirely mine.

I’ve opened up here on this blog previously – I’ve mentioned eating disorders and whatnot – yet revealing this scares me more than anything else I’ve so far shared.

This is how I went through most of my life perceiving friendship – as a form of painful coexistence, something you had to have because otherwise you’d be weird. Not as strong bond, not as a lifeline, not as a source of infinite joy and trust. But in the past few years, I’ve come to realize many things in this department. The first and foremost insight is that one is allowed to be picky when it comes to choosing one’s friends. As a matter of fact, we should be picky. Of course we should! I’ve also come to the conclusion that I’ll never be a person who needs many friends. I definitely prefer quality over quantity and easily get overwhelmed by too much social stimulation, but totally respect that others feel the exact opposite (sometimes I wish I was different though, and that I was a part of one of those massive girl gangs – but deep inside, I know that’s not for me). My friends today are awesome. They don’t really know each other, and they’ve entered my life at completely different times. They’re spread out all over the world, but they all share three qualities: they’re the kindest, funniest and smartest women I know. I can’t even tell you what a glorious experience it’s been, discovering that I get to pick and choose who I want in my life. Out with the energy thieves and mean vibes, in with some seriously cool and kindhearted people.

Growing vegetables makes my heart smile like nothing else (the dino kale to the right excuses its slightly disheveled look).

My former boss back in New York said an interesting thing one day, as a response to me questioning why our clients would rush into the spa for their massage/facial/whatever-wonderful-treat last minute, instead of making the most out of it (to me, a spa treatment would be such a splurge and I wouldn’t want to arrive stressed or – god forbid – miss the first 10 minutes). My boss said “oh but that’s how they make themselves feel important – it’s prestigious to have a jam-packed calendar and rush from one thing to another”. And I thought, boy – we’ve really made being humans and living life two utterly difficult things. Who in the world thinks being stressed is a legit good thing? I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who thrive in a fast-paced environment and wouldn’t want it any other way – there’s absolutely no judgment from me – but I would love it if our society would offer up a more open-minded attitude as to what is an acceptable choice of life. From the moment we’re born, we’re being fed this one idea of what success looks like – and unfortunately, it doesn’t really take into consideration how we feel on the inside – or how it’s making our planet feel, for that matter.

I still have a hard time saying no to things every now and then, but the biggest difference in how I feel about it is that I now – sincerely – think of me as the master/designer/creator of my own life. For the longest time, I felt like I was sitting in the backseat of the car that was my life. I felt like I had handed over the keys to someone else (probably someone I didn’t even like, knowing me) and that I was just trying to stay buckled up and preventing myself from flying out the window or being left at a gas station. But now – finally – I view myself as the one in charge. Somehow, this also prevents me from feeling totally consumed even if I do end up saying yes to something I really would have wanted to turn down. In turn, this makes me less likely to victimize myself, and that’s truly a good thing. We all get one teeny tiny precious sliver of life to love and cherish, and I’m just about cracking the code as far as how I best take care of mine. No one formula will work for everyone, but mine goes something like this: heaping amounts Michael, nature, movement, gardening, nourishing foods, family, reading, writing and pursuing goals. A spoonful here and there of other social interaction. And a pinch of career focus. But above all, freedom. What’s yours?

4 thoughts on “About saying no (but really, more about saying yes)

  1. Such a great and personal read, thank you for sharing!

    Sometimes it feels like I’ve got my life completely figured out, sometimes it feels like as if at the age of 47, I have no idea what I’m gonna do when I grow up 🙂

    With a wife, four kids between 19 and 8 years-old, a house and a full-time job that I really like and where I can make a difference for patients with severe diseases, although it of course can feel burdensome and stressful at times, the structure is fairly set but certain events this year (such as the death of my best friend and running companion) has made me reflect upon my life even more and I what I need to feel good and slowly slowly I am taking baby steps and small measures to get there, this really is about small things in daily life but things that can really make a difference towards the better. This include, similar to your list, ample time with my family, putting away phones and Ipads and instead spending time outdoors, running in nature, reading, writing, plyaing and listening to music and reconnecting with old friends and taking the time to show them that I really care about them.

    On another note, although I’ve only read your blog for a short while, and never met you, you guys seems like such great persons, that it would be great fun to talk to or go for a run with!

    1. Thank you, Staffan, for reading and leaving such a heartfelt reply. I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your best friend. Obviously, nothing I say can ease your burden, but I’m sending good vibes your way and I’m happy to read that you’re looking inwards and trying to make your life as rich and full of life as possible! I’m impressed by everything that you juggle in your everyday life – we don’t have kids (yet) and often wonder how the heck we’ll be able to squeeze some in 🙂 But I bet they’re an infinite source of joy and laughter. What a tribe you have!

      You come to realize, as the years go by and life throws things at you, that it’s really all about the small things. Or, I should say: the small things are really the big ones. I’ve come across a wonderfully inspiring woman on instagram (@glesbygdsromantik) who puts it very nicely: Om att hinna leva innan man ska dö (About making time to live before we die). That hits home for me.

      And thank you! Right back at you, as far as you seeming like such a great person! Maybe we’ll cross paths at a race in the future? Until then, take care of yourself and the family 🙂

      /Sophia

    1. Thank you for reading, D. You’ll forever be my soul sister, and I’ll be eternally grateful for that. Love you!

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