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Celebrating Ja-NO-ary

In the middle of my holiday shopping this past year I took a moment at the bookstore to grab some books and look them over while sitting in the café sipping a peppermint mocha Frappuccino with extra whipped cream. One of the books I had chosen was Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. It had been on my list to read for quite some time, and in wanting to make 2022 most definitely a year of something after the challenges faced in both 2020 and 2021, “Yes” seemed a fitting purpose for the new year.

Yet as I began to read, I found my mind wandering to all the other things that needed to get done, the many commitments I had made that were constantly looming at my back, hovering over my shoulder. In short, all the things I had said “yes” to. And because of them, I had to close my book, toss the Frappuccino into the trash can, and hurry to my latest dog appointment. After that, I had scheduled two meet and greets, a video chat with my critique group, dinner with a friend, and an after-hours sales meeting with a client. Because of everything I had said yes to, I now found myself in the regrettable position of saying no to the one person at the center of it all: me. I was doling out so many yeses that I was slowly starting to see my life lately had become one long succession of no’s, and I was applying that sentiment to the things that mattered most to me. No to phone calls with friends. No to a soak in the tub because the shower is more efficient. No to cooking on the stove because the microwave gets it done faster. No to lunch at an actual table with others because alone at my desk means I can eat and work. No to traveling home for Thanksgiving or Christmas because I have clients depending on me to watch their dogs while they visit their own families.

I began to pay closer attention to my surroundings while out and about, observing the behaviors and effects of others around me, especially women. Most looked rushed, tired, impatient. Holiday time used to be something we would savor, enjoying not only the events themselves but the ritual of preparation. Now our lives are so hectic and planned that we need not only December, but also all of November and half of October to plan for it. What used to be the biggest homecooked meal of the year has now become a pre-ordered fully cooked turkey from Whole Foods and packed containers of vegetables and mashed potatoes. Trees now come fully trimmed and almost every retail outlet offers gift wrapping. We are so overscheduled that most of us don’t even go out shopping anymore; in between phone calls and paperwork we can order everything we need and have it shipped anywhere; we’ve even robbed ourselves of the experience of the actual gift exchange. I too was a “yesser” when it came to department store gift wrapping, as sitting on the floor of my living room and wrapping them myself was not an option. I had become too busy to even participate in one of my favorite parts of Christmas. I knew I could not take this practice into my new year. So, with much respect and apologies to Shonda, I am declaring January 2022 my month of just saying no. And I wholeheartedly suggest you join me.

I hear your horrified gasps. Saying no? To my boss? My partner? My children? That extra helping of mashed potatoes? But if we are being completely honest with ourselves, how many times do we say yes when it is actually in our best interest to say no? Elton John sang about sorry being the hardest word; I’d like to propose that the hardest word is actually no. Is that because we feel deep down that a sincere no to others is indeed a yes to ourselves? And a yes to ourselves, we’ve been taught, is selfish. What kind of person are we if we can’t make cupcakes for the dance team fundraiser because we’d rather take a candlelit bath?

Many times, we say yes because we’ve been told it is the polite thing to do. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by denying them something they feel they need, but sometimes putting our own well-being and desires at the bottom of the to-do list is the easy way out. We don’t want to have to deal with the fallout of saying no, bearing the responsibility that comes with crushing someone’s expectations. That sounds extreme, doesn’t it? To believe that a simple no from us in response to a request has the power to cripple someone emotionally. Sure, a no is probably not what the asker is hoping for, but how beneficial to them is your forced yes? If delivered directly and with sincerity, a no can be liberating. Consider your own feelings every time a yes to someone else translates into what you need and want yet again taking a back seat.

I’ve already started trying out this New Year’s resolution. Just yesterday when the barista making my peppermint mocha asked me if there was enough whipped cream on my drink, I smiled brightly and declared, “No.”


  1. Loved the clever twist of an ending! Your message is spot on! Decades ago, when I was a kid and my mom was a “super mom” before the term was coined, she was overwhelmed with teaching, raising kids, taking care of her elderly mom, church duties, sundry clubs, etc., and our minister said to my mom. “Shirley, learn to say, ‘No.'” My dad always said that piece of advice from our preacher was better than any sermon that goes on and on!

  2. Good advice! It’s so hard to say “no” when you’re young. Much easier when you can see the bigger picture and realize everything does not hinge on your participation. And so much more enjoyable when it’s a genuine “yes”!

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