Learning to say no


January 21, 2011 by jessperriam

It was Monday last week and a big fire was brewing South of Perth. I had organised to have dinner at Bradbury and The Wade’s house for I was leaving the country within 48 hours.

This fire was big and I knew I would be contacted to see if I could work that evening in some way, shape or form.

I knew what my response should be. I also know what my response would be. The two did not match up, much to Bradbury and The Wade’s disappointment.

If I’m berated for one thing, it’s this: I can’t say no. Call me a soft touch, call me what you will. But no is the trickiest word in my vocabulary.

And I can pinpoint two key moments in my life which have shaped this affliction.

The first one was when I was a 18 year old youth group leader (read: cheerleader for Christian conservatism). We were co-opted into what almost felt like a part-time job’s worth of ministry in return for that warm fuzzy feeling of doing something worthy and the undying friendship of your fellow leaders (until you left the ministry or did something bad). This was all-consuming, time consuming stuff. Fridays were for leading youth group, Sunday was the obligatory church service, Wednesday nights were for going to young adults small groups and every second Tuesday was reserved for mandatory leadership group meetings. And there were other meetings – planning meetings, prayer meetings, meetings to go over what happened at the previous meeting.

And why did we subject ourselves to this lifestyle where what felt like every day was taken up like this? Simple. The unofficial motto of the youth pastor: DWYSYWD. Do What You Say You Will Do.If you didn’t rock up, didn’t participate, didn’t tow the line you would be on the receiving end of the mother of all guilt complexes – actual or implied.

So I said yes, I did what I was told. It was easier that way.

The second contributing factor was my psychologist.  A handy piece of advice she passed onto me when I was moving to Orange was to say yes to every offer that came my way.

“What’s something you might be invited to there that probably won’t interest you?”

“Well, I guess I wouldn’t be very interested in going to a rugby game.”

“You should go if you get invited, because guaranteed you’ll meet someone who doesn’t find it interesting either. You can strike up a conversation about how bored you both are. It’ll keep you from being alone and it’ll help you meet people.”

Fair call. So I adopted a strategy much akin to that seen in The Yes Man. And I did amazing things, things I wouldn’t have done, things I shouldn’t have done.

But I also had my fair share of the sheer dull and boring. Without the joys of meeting other like-minded people.

But combining those two reasons for saying yes to things makes for an odd guilt trip / unrealistic expectations train of thought.

Sometimes I say yes because it’s a show of my loyalty with some unexpected guilt thrown in. I get it in my head that people won’t find me as reliable (or even likable) if I say no.

But that’s crap. People will think what they want to think of you regardless of your bending over backwards to accommodate them and their immediate needs.

So I’ve resolved something. I am going to say no more often. I am going to say no in uncertain situations and no to things that just aren’t my bag.

But on the flipside, I’m going to say an unequivocal, overenthusiastic yes to things that I want to be involved in. And yes, I will DWYSWYD – with the right heart.


6 thoughts on “Learning to say no

  1. Jacob Black says:

    If I’d have know about this ‘always say yes’ thing earlier, I’d have asked you to do some more things. 😉

    Alas, I’ve found out about it too late. How tragic.

  2. Joey says:


    I too have had those days of Youth Ministry where it seems there isn’t a single free night in a week and wanting to have a full time job and earn *gasp* money is seen as not contributing to the community. I struggled so much with it as well, I lost friends over it, got sick over how stressful being so busy could be and in the end, came to the conclusion that it wasn’t for me.

    -Wanting to sleep with other girls may have had something to do with it too, pretty sure that gets frowned upon in a big way 😛

  3. jessperriam says:

    I think the stress and losing friends thing is the worst part. Should you take a step back from the full on load, you’re seen as being less than everyone else. I hated that feeling, it’s so hurtful.

    And as for the sleeping with girls thing – did they try an intervention on you? I love a well-intentioned, yet ultimately misguided intervention to make you feel even more on the outer. Whatever happened to grace?

    PS. I’ve never met you but I wanna be MC at your wedding.

  4. homeisaname says:

    Great post, Jess! I love how you concluded it– with the right heart.

    And as for meeting like-minded rugby unenthusaists at a game — I’ve never met another person at a (American) football game who hates it like I do. Or who finds it boring, or useless, or a social waste. Or who doesn’t like hot dogs served by sweaty band boosters.

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