Essay: No Regrets

May 8, 2020

It was long ago now, but I remember it vividly because I still use her advice.  I was taking a workshop on “Assertiveness Training” and the instructor was talking about saying no.

“Let’s suppose your neighbor asks you to watch her kids tomorrow and you can’t do it or don’t want to do it.”  Everyone in the class nodded; we were all women and we’d all been in this situation before, either asking or answering.

Our instructor continued.  “The minute you say no, your neighbor is thinking about who else she can ask.  She isn’t interested in your reason or your excuse—and you don’t need to offer one.  You can just say ‘No, I’m not available.’”

There was a long silence while we let this sink in.  We could refuse, she said, sometimes we could refuse.  We could set boundaries—not only for our kids but for ourselves.

I’ve had to learn this lesson over and over.  I learned it from my boss when everyone was trying to decide on a date for our next meeting.  She’d look at her calendar and simply say, “That doesn’t work for me.”  No reason, no excuse.  And nobody questioned her.  

A good friend recently turned seventy and I asked what he’d learned after all these years.  He didn’t hesitate.  “How to say no,” he said.