It seems a rather simple two letter word – no – yet it can be one of the hardest things for me to say!
With fibromyalgia, however, I knew I had to choose my battles with care; which means, I had to start saying no to some things. I learned how to do it fast for certain things, like declining social invitations I did not have the energy to attend. But it has been a learning curve on how to say no in a professional setting.
As a Type-A person, I had always taken some pride in my professional life for being able to juggle various obligations and staying afloat. Saying “no” felt defeatist, like I might be giving it up without a try. In fact, I was even told as much once, that “I was giving up too easy.” And yes, that stung, coming from a person who had no inkling of my daily struggles. But even in that moment of anger and frustration, I still wondered, was I really giving up too easy?
Last week, I had to turn down taking on the major responsibility for a new project. I knew that project would require hours that would be hell on me, and I wouldn’t want the project itself to suffer because I couldn’t keep up with it. In short, I felt it best to say “no” for the sake of project’s success as well as my health.
It was a difficult conversation to have with the boss; much more difficult than “yeah sure, I’ll do it.” I tried to put the project first when articulating my reasons for not taking it up, and offered alternative solutions. Despite my best efforts to be diplomatic, I heard the phrases “getting out of hard work” and “those who do the dirty work should get the credit” get littered into the conversation. I tried to not take it personally and agreed that indeed ones who perform the dirty hard labor should receive the primary credit.
Yet the connotation was clear, that I was trying to get out of doing hard/dirty work and should not expect to get credit. I never had. But it stung a bit anyhow because it came from one who, I would have thought, knows that I never shied away from hard work. Still, I couldn’t imagine anybody would be thrilled to take a “no” when they need someone to do the job; so I still tried not to take it personally and gave him the benefit of the doubt.
At the end of the day, I reasoned that only I can know my limits, and setting those boundaries is a healthy habit. I have a responsibility to protect myself and nobody else could do that for me. Nobody else would know how to. So I had to step up for myself and advocate for my own health care needs. Sometimes it can lead to uncomfortable conversations. Sometimes it can take people time to get used to hearing no from people like me who used to always say yes. In the meantime, I try to remain gracious and not let the negative comments touch my core. Difficult as that may be, knowing that this is the right thing to do makes it just a little a little bit easier!