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Posts Tagged ‘saying no’

In fact, at times they have been fairly noteworthy for their badness. People have been quick to offer silver linings, which, thanks, I’ve got that covered. But sometimes you’ve just got to accept that some bad stuff is happening, and that in the present moment, things are difficult.

And I felt a lot of doubt. What, I thought, was the point of putting so much effort into all this personal development if it was still possible for me to be taking this many serious emotional hits within a short period of time? I was fighting disillusionment and asking A LOT of questions.

Here is what I learned:

I learned that you can’t control how other people behave, how other people treat you, or a whole host of potential crap that life can throw at you. You can only control how you choose to respond to these situations.

I learned that sometimes people deeply disappoint you, and that sucks, and there’s nothing you can do about it except take care of you.

I learned what it feels like to say a more effortless no. I’ve been saying so much no lately. No, this is not acceptable. No, we can’t just ignore this. No, you can’t erase my reality. No, I can’t do that thing. No, I can’t deal with complicated logistics right now. No, I don’t have the emotional bandwidth for that. No, I can’t make yet another decision right now. No, I’m not going to show up when you’re not. No no no no no.

It turns out it’s a lot easier to say no when your plate is full to capacity. Because then some of the requests (and demands) take on a slightly absurd quality or are just obviously impossible, and those are the ones to which I say no. Almost always without guilt, I might add. Which is fucking fantastic.

I learned that how someone else chooses to treat me does not have to affect how I feel about myself.

I learned that some mistakes are correctable.

I learned that some people surprise you in a great way.

I learned the power of being done.

I learned that even when you’re having trouble feeling grateful, the reasons for you to be grateful are still right there.

I let go of a lot of things I’d been holding onto for a loooong time. And I stopped trying so hard to make everyone except me comfortable. And guess what! It turns out I like being comfortable too. Who knew.

I learned that there are lots of reasons to get your life in order, even though that doesn’t mean you’ll be immune to trouble. Because whatever is happening on the outside, you’ve still got whatever you’ve built on the inside. And even through these last few hard months, there have been so many bright spots. There’s this year’s book, and I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I love this book so hard, and its imperfections and difficulties only make me love it more. There’s Nala, who decided on her own to morph into a lap dog in order to better support me. There’s some of my best friends, both local and not, both new and old, who have shown up in all kinds of ways. There are concerts and books and musicals and plays and albums and T.V. shows and museum exhibits. And dancing. I  had one of the best dancing nights of my life last weekend.

And there’s planning for a future I am incredibly excited about.

At one point back in March, one of my close friends said something like, “Amy, I know things are hard right now, but I think you’re going through a big period of change, and it’s going to be amazing for you in the end.” As soon as he said that, I felt a lot better. Change was all around me, and it seemed so dark, and I was so tired. But being reminded that the light was there, that maybe it wasn’t even that far away anymore, I tightened my jaw and I kept going.

And now here I am. There is sun on my face. And more clearly than ever before, I know who I am and what I want. No wishy-washiness, no compromises, no vision clouded by fear and misplaced empathy.

All right then. Let’s do this thing.

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A couple of months ago a friend of mine told me I was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

At first I argued with him. But that ended pretty quickly because his argument was actually convincing. My favorite point? “How many men,” he asked me, “have you helped ‘discover their joy’?”

My reaction to that question was, “Oh, shut up.” Although of course, I didn’t actually say that because it wouldn’t have been a discovering the joy kind of thing to say.

So then I thought maybe I could write a memoir called “I Was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” Because how much fun would that be?

Bringing the joy! With BAKING.

Bringing the joy! With SWEET TREATS.

The idea was shiny but not without its drawbacks. For starters, to write that book properly I’d have to show a lot of the past messes in my life, and even though I know everyone has a lot of mess in their lives at one point or another, it’s still not the most comfortable proposition. Plus I know if I wrote that book the way I wanted to write it, I’d get rape threats for sure. Which, I mean, I kind of feel is inevitable, but it does have a dampening effect on my desire to pursue the project.

Also, I feel the need to point out that yes, we live in a world where female writers think about rape threat potential when planning their careers. Yup.

One of the great things about this hypothetical memoir is that it has a great redemptive arc. And I just read a blog post by Penelope Trunk telling me publishers want redemptive memoirs. (As an aside, I completely agree with her about Jeanette Wallis’s The Glass Castle. I was so disappointed when it ended. I wanted to know how her crazy childhood affected her adult life. To me, that was the interesting part, more so than the redemption. And then the book ended right when we got there!)

Anyway. Note the title of my memoir. I WAS a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Past tense. Because I don’t really think I am one anymore. How’s that for some redemption?

Why do I think I’ve changed? Well, I’ve been meeting a lot of people for the past several months. Including a lot of guys who I’m sure I could have helped discover their joy. Or at least made myself very unhappy trying. But I’ve lost almost all my interest in doing that. (I mean, okay, not ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of my interest, but hey, no one’s perfect.)

Like, I could never date a workaholic again, and I would be completely happy with that outcome. Ecstatic, really. Workaholics are thick on the ground where I live. And they are the perfect people to help rediscover their joy and the fact there’s a world outside their offices and all that jazz. Also, I totally disagree with their life philosophies. I think they’re more likely than not to regret being workaholics later in life. I mean, look at the top five regrets of dying people. But, I mean, whatever. Maybe they won’t, and in the meantime, it is so amazingly lovely to have that not be my problem.

It is amazing how liberating it is to realize how many things are not my problem. He can’t ask me to do something with a reasonable amount of lead time? Not my problem. He doesn’t see the importance of a social life? Not my problem. He has deep existential pain? Or, you know, some kind of complicated problem? Not my problem. He doesn’t like that I don’t drink? Not my problem. He doesn’t like some detail about my past? Not my problem. He’s unhappy and lost his ability to appreciate the little things? Not my problem. He lacks a sense of wonder? Not my problem. He tends to mansplain? So not my problem. Especially if it’s anything remotely related to writing. I’m currently perfecting my “Why do you think I want to sit here and listen to this?” face. (It needs some work. I’m still way too nice.)

I know to some of you that last paragraph will sound cold. Of course I help when I can and it is appropriate to do so. But refusing to take on other people’s problems means I can take a lot better care of myself. And a lot of that stuff is, frankly, a waste of my time and energy. As it turns out, it really sucks to be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It’s a hell of a lot of work for very little reward.

So yes, I was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. But now I’m just Amy, and I’m pretty happy with that.

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I imagine a better world for myself.

I imagine a world in which sexual harassment is not a common reality, in which consent matters and communication matters and female bodies aren’t so objectified that it becomes easy to forget there’s a person here in this body. In which harassment is strictly not allowed instead of being given a pass or labeled a misunderstanding. In which no always means no and nobody is trying to pretend that isn’t actually true so they can feel better about the horrible way they have treated other people.

I imagine a world in which people don’t tell me what to do unprompted, and people don’t explain things to me that I already know, and people don’t tell me incorrect information about things about which I already know and then won’t listen when I gently question this false information. A world in which I am not shut down when I try to express my opinion or reservations.

I imagine a world in which there are more choices for me than just the Virgin and the Whore. In which I am not shamed for having a body, for how I dress, for the existence of sexuality. In which I am not pressured, repeatedly, to do things I am not comfortable doing. In which vulnerability is not a weakness to be exploited. In which the word “tease” is never used as a weapon. In which I don’t have to worry about the possibility of being physically forced.

I imagine a world in which instead of being told I’m too emotional, my feelings matter. In which the boundaries I set are actually taken seriously. In which people take responsibility for their bad behavior instead of expecting me to be run over by a bus on their behalf. In which there isn’t an expectation that we’ll all just pretend that didn’t happen. In which my discomfort with bad behavior is met with neither anger nor denial. In which people know that empathy doesn’t mean just caring about someone but involves understanding their perspective and feeling compassion on their behalf.

I imagine a world in which people don’t feel entitled to me, to my body, to my time, to my energy. In which basic decency doesn’t expect a reward. In which my choices are celebrated instead of constrained. In which people don’t use manipulation tactics to attempt to control me. In which instead we are gifts to each other, freely given but not taken for granted.

I imagine a world in which I am surrounded by amazing and supportive people. In which none of us are perfect but all of us are willing to own the issues that are ours. In which we’ve learned how to listen, and how to apologize, and how to respect, regardless of gender or color or class or orientation.

And then I imagine myself. I imagine setting boundaries, standing up for myself, and rejecting the pervasive message that I do not matter. I imagine treating myself with the kindness and respect I used to reserve for others. I imagine allowing others to experience the consequences of their behavior without shouldering any of their responsibility. I imagine shedding shame like a skin I’ve outgrown.

Yes. I can be that woman.

Maybe I already am.

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I’ve been seeing a fair amount of talk about GISHWHES in my social feeds. But not random and silly requests for help or funny stories, unfortunately. Instead people are talking about GISHWHES and harassment. And harassment of my SF&F writer community, no less. Here are the details.

This makes me sad. Being harassed sucks and is a big deal. Being inundated with requests sucks too. Some people have trouble saying no, and that can make this kind of thing particularly exhausting. I suspect that if one achieves a certain level of fame (or at least recognition), it becomes imperative to learn how to say no just in order to maintain basic emotional stability. But even so, not everyone will be great at learning this, and people will be at different stages of the learning curve too.

And when they do say no and the askers are rude and harassing about it? Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh.

This makes me think about the problems of scale. Because coming up with items for a local scavenger hunt that involves relatively few people who are probably all connected in some way (they work for the same company, for example, or they belong to the same community organization) is very different from coming up with items for thousands of people world-wide. (Wikipedia tells me GISHWHES had 14,580 participants in 2012, and I’d guess that number has grown.)

Additionally, when organizing such an event for a smaller organization, all the people are known to one another, and therefore they hold each other accountable to a certain standard of behavior. But when the numbers increase and there isn’t the same social pressure present, the likelihood of having at least a few people who think it’s okay to behave like jerks increases drastically. Add to this the sheer number of people making requests to the most famous authors, and problems aren’t difficult to imagine.

So while some of us are busy creating a stream of tweets rhapsodizing about dandelions (which it sounds like are not in season right now anyway), there are others who are being rude and unkind, during an event that is supposed to be fostering kindness. Which is really unfortunate.

All of the asking required by participating in GISHWHES also has me pondering the nature of asking. I was raised firmly in Guess Culture and have been gradually shifting closer to Ask Culture in order to achieve more balance. Quick summary: Ask Culture people ask for what they want/need and are totally fine being told no. Guess Culture people usually only ask when they’re pretty sure the answer is going to be yes, and Guess Culture involves a lot of reading social cues. Keep in mind this isn’t a black and white contrast, but a spectrum of behavior and culture. (Want to know more about Ask Vs. Guess Culture? Have some links!) So I’ve thought about asking quite a lot over the past couple of years.

 

Here are my own guidelines for asking:

1. Phrase your request as clearly as possible. Include relevant details, and communicate which aspects are flexible.

2. Do not assume the person will say yes. Do not phrase your request in such a way that it appears you are assuming the person will say yes.

3. Be gracious and polite if the person says no. If you aren’t sure if you will be okay with a no, that probably means you shouldn’t be asking (barring emergencies, of course).

4. If you suspect you might be dealing with a person from guess culture (or if you have no idea), consider explicitly including some kind of easy out for them in the request. Guess culture people will often get stressed out from having to say no, so be kind and make it easier. Variants include: “It’s totally fine if you can’t help out” or “I know you’re really busy right now” or “If you can’t help, I completely understand.” These sorts of softening phrases can sometimes make a huge difference in how a request is received. Whether they are appropriate varies depending on context, though.

5. Do what you can to make your request as convenient and considerate as possible for the other person. This could include being flexible about timing, for example, or laying out all the details up front so they don’t have to ask many questions just to figure out what’s going on. It could also mean making sure you’re on time, having the correct materials on hand, or giving plenty of advance warning.

6. Consider the ramifications of your request. This might fall into the being considerate item above. For example, before a Gisher asks Neil Gaiman to write them a story, they might stop and consider the fact that he’s probably already been swamped with requests and therefore decide to ask someone else instead.

7. Show gratitude if the person says yes, both when they first reply and when they are helping you. Let them know how much you appreciate them.

I can tell I’m still more on the Guess culture side of things, though, because as I contemplate this list, my natural inclination is to clarify and add more and talk about variables. And I know many people for whom this list is already way more complicated than it has to be. After all, it could be boiled down to:

1. Ask.

2. Accept no.

3. Be kind.

If nothing else, the simpler list is easier to remember. And it still leaves space for all kinds of nuance as required.

Are you more Ask or Guess culture? What are your guidelines for asking?

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I recently took a couple of online personality tests (the Myers-Briggs and the IPIP-NEO), and my results have changed. I’m now coming out fairly firmly on the extroverted side of things instead of being almost exactly in the middle.

I want to leave aside, for now, the argument that introversion is not a personality trait. I also don’t want to delve deeply into the sometimes ignorant stereotypes and oversimplification that goes along with discussions of introversion and extraversion.

I have not been trying to change into more of an extrovert, but I think me doing so has been a side effect of another change I have been trying to make: namely, to develop a backbone, tone down the people pleasing, and learn to set boundaries.

As it turns out, it is exhausting to be around people when you are a people pleaser. Full stop. It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert. It doesn’t matter if you know how to make conversation or can be a good listener or are a generally pleasant person to be around.

It takes huge amounts of energy to be around people when you aren’t allowed to say no, don’t value your own opinions and feelings and desires, and won’t stand up for yourself. Because the people around you might ask you to do something that you can’t possibly or don’t want to do for them. Or they might (inadvertently or not) treat you without respect. Or they might disagree about how something should happen, and then there will be conflict, which is anathema to the people pleaser. Or they might do something that bothers you but to which you do not feel able to respond.

At some point, in order to protect yourself from this huge expenditure of emotional energy, you might begin to build a wall around yourself. You might find yourself wishing to be alone because being alone is the only time when you can truly relax and be peaceful. You might keep other people at arms’ length to minimize the requests and the conflicts and the fatigue. You might need a lot of time to recharge after socializing.

You might appear to be an introvert.

But as it turns out, with proper implementation of boundaries, there are possibilities! You can say no. You can set limits on the behavior you’re willing to accept. You can stand up for your opinions. You can have opinions in the first place. You can object. You can have emotions. You can leave if you’re not having a good time.

You can be a better friend because you no longer need to demand perfection from yourself or from other people. You don’t need perfection when you’re allowed to communicate and take care of yourself.

And at some point, being around people just doesn’t take up as much energy as it used to.

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Where’s Amy? Photo by Yvette Ono, photographer extraordinaire.

Let me be clear. I don’t think all or even most introverts are people pleasers, and that this is why they are introverts. I put no value judgment on how much time people like to spend with other people or how much alone time people want. But I do think that being a people pleaser can mask or change parts of the personality. In my own case, being a people pleaser encouraged me to become more introverted. But as I have been focusing on becoming less of a people pleaser, I’ve also been changing my social behavior and my attitude towards it.

I like seeing markers of progress, even unexpected ones. And I like feeling more fully myself.

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James Altucher wrote one of those popular list posts of things he learned from being a day trader. It is really interesting, as his posts often are. Two of his points particularly caught my attention:

  • Say “no.”… You have to decide every moment if this is the situation you want to be in.”
  • “This is crazy” means you’re crazy. …I know when I feel like, “ugh, this situation is insane” that the first place I need to look is at me.”

I like these points, and I think they go together well. Because when a situation feels insane, it’s probably particularly important to decide if that’s really the situation you want to be in. And those are the situations in which the skill of saying no is going to be particularly valuable.

The second point is crucial because it’s so easy not to look at ourselves. Sometimes we want to look anywhere BUT ourselves. But ultimately the situations in which we find ourselves are often about us. They are about us whenever we have a choice.

Even if it’s a painful choice. Those count too. Saying no can be one of the hardest things to do. Deciding to remove ourselves from a situation is often deeply unpleasant. Making different choices than we usually do can take huge amounts of effort.

Which road do you take? Photo Credit: simonsterg via Compfight cc

Sometimes we feel so attached to the way things have been or the way we wanted things to be that it takes awhile to make this choice. Sometimes after making the choice, we feel regret. We second guess. We wonder how it might have been if we’d chosen differently.

But really all that matters is the choice we’re confronted with right now. We can’t do anything about those other choices. We’ll never know how things would have gone if we’d chosen differently. We can’t go back and change things.

Sometimes we’re tempted to blame other people. We look at their behavior, and we want to point fingers and say, “Look! There is where the problem is.” And I’m not saying people don’t do some crappy things to each other sometimes. They do, and it sucks, and we don’t have to be okay with that kind of thing.

But in the end, we still usually have a choice, and so it becomes about us too. We get to decide if we’re willing to be in a relationship with this person. We get to set and hold boundaries. We get to say no. We get to say this is no longer a way I’m willing to be treated.

And what we’ll tolerate and what we won’t tolerate? The message that sends is about ourselves. So then the question becomes, are we choosing to send ourselves hate mail? Or today, are we going to send a love letter?

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This weekend I got a question on an old post of mine that I thought deserved a longer response. The post is on the topic of the difficulties of being a free spirit, and the commenter asked: “”What do you do when you falter? How do you stay strong in the face of judgement?” Both excellent questions.

What do I do when I falter? And oh wow, do I falter. Most of us do. It’s hard to make unconventional choices, and it takes a fair amount of courage, and sometimes my supply of courage feels like it’s running short. What to do about this indeed?

One answer is to pay attention as much as we can, so at least we have a chance of noticing when we’re faltering. And once we’ve noticed, we can allow ourselves to be gentle about it. It’s fine to feel the fear, the discomfort, the wish that the choices that seem so much easier would be the right choices for us. But we also need to remember the why’s. Why do we like being free-spirited? Why do we prefer considering options instead of making the default choice? Why is this better?

When I falter, I remind myself of my experiences of doing what others expected or wanted rather than what I wanted, and how that usually turned out poorly. I give myself my own personalized pep talk. And because I’m a planner, I develop a plan for getting myself back on track, which might include getting additional support.

Photo Credit: bogenfreund via Compfight cc

Far more difficult in my own experience is staying strong in the face of judgment. Being judged is such a creepy-crawly, uncomfortable experience. And even though it so often is all about the person doing the judging rather than the person being judged, it still feels very personal.

The first place to look is to ourselves. If we encourage our own minds to be judgmental and critical of ourselves, then we’ll feel that same sensation of judgment coming from the outside as well…even if it doesn’t actually exist outside at all. So we need to be kind to ourselves while developing our own sense of worth. The more we believe in ourselves, the more confident we become. And the more confident we become, the less it matters what other people think, and the easier it becomes to remember that their judgments are more about them than about us.

It’s harder when the judgments are coming from people whom we care about: our family and friends. Sometimes their voices become so loud that we internalize them and can hear them criticizing us even when they aren’t present. And because we value their opinions, it can be harder to tell the difference between genuine concern and viewpoints respectfully expressed and more manipulative and painful judgments.

For this, I am a big fan of setting boundaries. When we’re not used to having boundaries, it takes a lot of practice. Really a lot. And not only that, but people can become quite judgmental about the fact that you have boundaries in the first place. But it’s psychologically healthy to have boundaries, and over time they become super effective. You’re allowed to decide what you’re going to do with your life, and you’re allowed to take care of yourself. (I could write entire books about boundaries. In fact, people have, and here’s my favorite.)

So, in summary, here’s what I do when I falter and when I’m having trouble with the judgments of others:

1. Be mindful so I notice what’s going on.
2. Self pep talk, reminder of why what I’m doing is awesome.
3. Get support, make a plan if necessary.
4. Work on increasing self esteem and minimizing my own critical judgments.
5. Set boundaries with other people and take those boundaries really seriously.

What do you think? How do you stay strong in the face of judgment?

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