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"No is a complete sentence" is something we've all heard, usually as a reminder for those of us, especially women inclined to over-commit.

I've reached a stage where I'm good at saying no when managing and prioritizing my time and well-being. I've become more of an introvert over time, and though I can and do enjoy the energy that comes from being with others, it takes a toll on my energy. I need time alone to rejuvenate; the older I get, the longer the rejuvenation period.

Recently, I've been exploring the meaning and power of no beyond prioritizing my time. I realized how infrequently I've said no and how much bargaining and equivocating I've done when I do.

A new no I've discovered that's been incredibly freeing is the I-Don't-Want-To no. Usually, I reserved this no for the most extreme scenarios - "Do you want to go skydiving?" "No." - or I'd come up with a whole list of reasons and detailed explanations to not disappoint or to avoid conveying a "tone" as so often happens to Black women.

I use much less mental and emotional energy by saying a simple "Thank you, but no" when invited to do something I don't want to do. No more running hundreds of hypotheticals and contingencies based on possible responses or coming up with elaborate – and admittedly sometimes ridiculous – stories about how I'll spend my time instead. The instinct to fill that silence after the no is still there, but less so.

Another no I'm embracing is the I-Don't-Know-How no. Embracing this no has been particularly hard because of my own and others' expectations of having to know and do everything better than everyone else (again, as so often happens to Black women). I'm also curious, so even when I don't know, I still want to try to find out, so I'd often say yes and figure it out later. Learning to say no and admit I don't know without the "...but I'll find out" is like admitting failure.

Reframing this no into an opportunity to get to know those who do know has helped me reject those feelings of failure. I now seek out people with different exciting skills beyond my capacity and am more intentional about connecting them to others.

The response to my new no's has been interesting. Most people accept no graciously and move on, but occasionally, I'll get asked why or why not. A common thread I've noticed among those who question my no is that it's usually from someone seeking to extract something more than they've conveyed in their invitation, which both affirms and amplifies the power of my no. Discernment is a gift, y'all.

Ultimately, exploring the power of my no has increased the enthusiasm of my yes. I say yes whole-heartedly now more than ever because I genuinely want to, and that means I get to spend more time doing things I genuinely want to do. But saying no isn't just about doing what I want. It's about authenticity and being true to myself.

Here are two quotes that I appreciate about saying no: 

"One of the most painfully inauthentic ways we show up in our lives sometimes is saying "yes" when we mean "no," and saying "no" when we mean "hell yes." - Brené Brown.

"No one ever went broke by saying no too often." - Harvey Mackay.


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