"Yes, I can stay late and do the extra work." "Sure, I'd be happy to pick up groceries on my way home." "Of course, I'll help you pack and move, that's what friends are for." "Yes, babe, I'm on my way to help you with your homework…Alexa, how do you do geometry". If your day is anything like mine, you find yourself saying some version of yes to approximately 9,754,239 people a day…ok it may not be that many, but I'm sure it feels like it sometimes. Women in general and Black women, in particular, carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, and if we aren't careful, it can crush us.
In 2014, that weight crushed me!!! That was the first time I found myself sitting in the ER with what I was sure was a heart attack. I was 38 years old, and I thought I was dying. The saddest part was: as I lay in the hospital bed, I couldn't even concentrate on myself. All I could think about was if my husband knew where my insurance papers were, that I needed to call a friend to pick up the girls from school, how I couldn't leave my sister, and wondering if I called Mama back. I was focused on all of the things I was to other people. Sound familiar???
Fortunately, it was a panic attack and not a heart attack (although we do have serious heart issues and our heart attacks often present in different ways, but that is a discussion for a separate post). Even though it wasn't life-threatening, it was a wakeup call. I knew I had to do things differently, but it took me a while to figure out how. What I finally came up with was both basic and profound. I started saying, "No."
Obviously, I couldn't say no to everything (although there were days I wanted to) so, I had to come up with a list of non-negotiables. A list of things I wouldn't compromise no matter what, a list that would move me a little further up my own priority list. Everyone's non-negotiables are different, but you can ask yourself a couple of questions to determine what your non-negotiables are.
What matters most to you?
What is hardest to fix if you don’t get it right the first time?
Ask yourself those questions for every relationship you’re in; as a parent, employee, manager, spouse, daughter, friend, etc.
I had a few non-negotiables for every major person I was connected to. My original list included:
Not traveling on the girl’s birthdays or holidays – I said no to trips with friends and work travel and didn’t feel guilty because I was honoring my non-negotiables.
Attending at least 90% of their games and events (I still hear about the 1 soccer game I missed 10 years ago) – I said no to other ways to spend my time regardless of who was asking.
Not going to the store the night before a project is due, if that's the first time they asked for something – I said no to turning their poor planning into my emergency.
Traveling with him for his work whenever I can – I said no to putting other relationships above that one.
Not picking up the wadded-up paper towels he seems to leave all over the house – I said no to feeling like I was "the help" for things I knew he was capable of doing himself (he is great and this is one of a small number of annoying things but for some reason it drives me crazy).
Employee / Supervisor:
Being involved in all decisions regarding my staff – I said no to having other people make decisions that I knew were mine to make.
NEVER being the note taker in meetings – there will be a post about this one, but I said no to not having my position acknowledged.
I’d love to say I got this perfect the first time and stuck to all of these immediately. The truth is it was still a learning process and took some practice, but now I feel great about it, and I no longer feel guilty when I say, "No, I can't do that. It's not that I'm busy, it just goes against my personal list of priorities”.
I’ll admit a few people didn’t like it, but this was for me, not them. We often spend A LOT of time prioritizing everyone else, and we're expected to dust our Superwoman cape off and keep it moving. Well, no more! Start taking care of you by saying no to others. Set your non-negotiables and stick to them. We all deserve to have others honor our boundaries, so get out there and start building your protective perimeters!
Author and Our Truths founder, Christy Pruitt-Haynes combined her 20 years of leadership in organizations including The Memphis Grizzlies, MTV Networks and Infiniti with an education in Human Resources and Organizational Development to create Christy Pruitt-Haynes Consulting and change the professional landscape for women and people of color while helping organizations achieve excellence. This TEDx talk giving executive, wife, mother, aunt, daughter, sister and friend loves travel, laughing uncontrollably and losing herself in great music.
Theme song: I was here by Beyoncé
Proudest moments: The birth of my daughter Christiana, niece Nia and organization Our Truths