“No” is Self Care
The Journey to No
by Lola Troy
Sometimes, I find myself riddled with guilt after exercising my power to say no. I am an African American woman in my late 40s, college graduate, excelling in my career, running a successful business, divorced, and mom of one young adult daughter. I wear many hats as most of us do and even though I pride myself on having excellent time management skills, I still struggle with telling people no. Why is that? It is because I never made it a priority to set aside a sacred space within myself where I can rest…rest my mind, my body, and my spirit.
Even when I am offered the space and time to rest, I would still choose to keep going out of a feeling of guilt. You know, the guilt that is woven with my ancestors in mind, the guilt that says, “Girl, you better keep moving because your ancestors sacrificed so that you could even have this opportunity…keep going!”
I remember watching an interview that Oprah did with Dr. Maya Angelou a few years back and this beloved poet and civil rights activist expressed the best advice she had ever given to her son and that was, “there’s a place in you that you must keep pristine, clean where nobody has the right to violate you, nobody, not your mother, father, friend, spouse, etc. because that is just the place that you might meet God”.
Miss Angelou’s advice to her son pierced my soul. I remember taking in that moment with a long sigh and realizing that I didn’t know boundaries. What did it mean to save a space for me? I wanted to go through the television and ask Queen Mother, “so are you saying I get to have a place just for me and I get to say no to people and myself?” I had so many questions after that interview because the thought that I could set boundaries was cognitive dissonance to my being. I could not wrap my mind around being able to say no to anyone.
A lot of women of color do not know about boundaries nor have they ever set them for themselves. We simply never witnessed it within our family dynamics. I started to examine my life and go back in my history to see if I saw boundaries growing up. I often wondered why I never really heard the word “no” uttered from my grandmother’s or mother’s lips. Were they afraid to say no because it gave them a voice in a world that wasn’t used to hearing their voices? Or were they modeling behaviors of what they saw their mothers and grandmothers do?
I am a 70’s baby that grew up in a two-parent household. It was very traditional in the sense where my dad brought the structure and safety in our home, but it was my mother’s spirit that brought the warmth and love. Although they had the same career as educators, my mother was a force to be reckoned with. She was self-motivating, intelligent, innovative and a powerful teacher and administrator who always excelled in her career but somehow, she was always overworked and underpaid for what she contributed to society. She never took pause to refill her cup because she was ancestrally wired to keep going even when she was tired. She also never complained about her cup running over. She did it with grace and ease from my vantage point, but I am sure today, she would express needing moments of rest and solitude. And she was my blueprint of how I navigated my life.
I started to recognize those same patterns in my life like peak performances in my career, being a successful business owner, helping my daughter navigate young adulthood, taking project after project and not taking time, in between, for myself and still not complaining about it. It dawned on me that I literally watched my mother do the very same thing. I would never check my own mental, physical, and emotional temperature. I had to accept the fact that I had been groomed to overachieve and in the same token, not create a safe space internally to call my own. It wasn’t until I saw that interview with Dr. Angelou that I realized that I had permission to say no to myself and others and that I could take time without feeling guilty.
In recent sports news, two very accomplished and global athletes exercised their rights to say no to preserve their mental health. In July 2021, Naomi Osaka, the famous tennis player, decided to withdraw from the French Open to tend to her mental health. She stated in her Time magazine article that she had learned lessons and those lessons were: 1. you cannot please everyone and 2. it has become apparent that everyone either suffers from issues related to mental health or knows someone that does. Simone Biles, another decorated athlete withdrew from several events at this year’s Summer Olympics. She stated that in practice she got lost in the air. This disconnect, mentally, could have caused her serious injuries if she had competed.
For both of these ladies to exercise their ‘no’ for mental health breaks, they were faced with a multitude of ridicule in the press. Everyone had an opinion about their decision of saying no and creating safe space for themselves. Can you imagine the guilt they must have felt of letting their family, fans, sponsors, teammates, society, or their country down? Of course you can, because we experience this every day within our own families, workplaces, and communities.
The question is: What are you going to do about it, sis?
It is important to say no, so you feel empowered while still maintaining your relationships with others. It also helps you establish healthy boundaries and enables others to have clarity about what they can expect from you. And what’s most important, is you coming into a certain awareness that rest is your birthright.
Here are some powerful reasons to say no:
|1.||It is not in alignment with your purpose, values, or beliefs|
|2.||You value your time|
|3.||Saying no to someone else is saying yes to you|
|4.||Saying no helps to clarify your needs|
|5.||You have set healthy boundaries which is a practice of mindfulness|
|6.||It is not your job to please everyone|
|7.||Saying no creates opportunities for others to shine|
|8.||Rest is essential for the mind, body, and spirit|
|9.||No is a complete sentence|
|10.||Saying no resets everybody’s expectations of you|
With this in mind, let us all remove the constructs that were created long before we were born about saying no. Let us stop the overachievement and not asking for what we need, and not taking mental, emotional, and physical breaks for ourselves. May we untie that superwoman cape and explore moments of vulnerability where we can stand in our power and deliver this refusal even when people look for us to show up every single time to solve the problems of the world with our beautiful brown and black brains. Let that powerful ‘no’ reset expectations (ours and everyone else) of who we are.
Remember what Queen Maya says to do, “Create that safe space inside where nobody can penetrate it because it just might be the place you meet God!”
About Lola Troy
Lola Troy has dedicated herself full time to bring her message to groups around the world. Whether as a keynote speaker, facilitator, or corporate trainer, she helps break through the boundaries that are limiting women, their families, or their businesses and get them ready to shape the future. She has been a full-time healthcare IT trainer for the past ten years traveling all over the country; however, her recent passion project is being the host and curator of Heal Black Joy, the learning platform for our community to heal our black joy with tangible and attainable programs for the mind, body, soul, relationships, and businesses.