As educators, as givers, as women (for those of you who identify as women), we are conditioned to say “Yes,” to agree to help others. It is hard to say “No,” to set boundaries for ourselves, to carve out space for our wants and needs. Let 2020 be the year you turn that around. Interested? Let’s figure out how to make it happen.
Saying “No” enables you to say “Yes.”
In order to set our boundaries, and be able to say “No” like a boss (you are the boss of your life, after all), we first need to change our perception of a “No.” Saying “No” to one thing enables you to say “Yes” to something else. That something else may be spending time with family, exercising, sleeping, whatever it is, your “No”s make room for “Yes”es in the areas that matter most to you. Remember, there is always an opportunity cost to saying, “Yes.” You need to determine if the cost is worth it. (For example, if I agree to stay after school, I won’t be able to run today or cook dinner with my family or fill-in-the-blank-here. Am I willing to sacrifice that?)
What do you want to say “Yes” to?
Take a moment to brainstorm and list your top 3 priorities. What do you want to spend more time doing? This list will help you say “No.” You can use the list as a litmus test by asking yourself if saying ”Yes” to something will take too much away from your priorities. Deepak Chopra reportedly has 3 questions to which he needs to answer “Yes” in order to agree to take on something new: Is it fun to do? Are the people I would be working with fun to be with? Is it of service to the world?
This is how you say, “No.”
Make sure your brain is ready. Remind yourself of your priorities. Keep a post-it near your desk reminding you it’s okay to say “No” or listing your top 3 priorities or asking “Is it worth the cost?”
Say: No. As a full sentence. Count to 10 in your head afterwards to fill the awkward silence if it bothers you. In Emilie Aries’ book, Bossed Up, she notes a moment when Anderson Cooper asked Hillary Clinton if she wanted to respond to a comment, and she simply replied, “No.” Complete sentence. Boom. We don’t always need to explain ourselves!
If the idea of not explaining your answer is stressing you out, try sharing your priorities as an explanation. I’ve heard different iterations of the following script: Thank you for asking. I’m excited about what you’re doing. My current priorities are: ____, ____, and ____. I’m unable to say yes to anything outside of these right now. (You can suggest an alternative option or a way to integrate one of your priority areas with the ask, such as: If you want to join me on my afternoon run/walk, then I would be able to have that meeting.)
Honor others’ boundaries
Model accepting others’ “Nos” with not just politeness, but excitement! Support your colleagues and loved ones to set boundaries of their own and honor those boundaries when they say “No” to you. In fact, give those “No”s a little cheer or high 5. Acknowledge that boundary setting is hard and important, and they are modeling like a champ!
Remember, we get to make the calls about how we spend our time and energy, especially outside of work! Our time and energy are finite resources, and we often give and give and give until there’s nothing left for what’s important to us. Emilie Aries often talks about the martyrdom mindset, pointing out in her book, “research shows that happier, healthier people are more productive, focused and harder working. Taking care of your basic needs has been shown to improve decision making, increase creativity, and help with problem solving and efficiency…it leaves you in a stronger position to do better work, help more people, and have a bigger impact,” (p. 20). Setting those boundaries so you can invest in feeling energized and fulfilled actually helps you thrive at work and at home!
Need some reminding to help you stick to your boundaries? Get my free boundary reminders, 4 mini posters, that you can print and post in your workspace or set as the background of your computer or phone!
Now that you’re ready to get started, what are your priorities for 2020? What boundaries will you set?
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.