Life as an introvert has never been easy. And you learn this especially in your teenage years, when the pressure to conform is simply huge.
You notice quickly that your extroverted friends do better in society: they receive more attention, more compliments, they’re invited everywhere and everybody wants to be around them. That’s how everything starts, with thinking that if you’ll be more like them and less like you, you’ll be better. So you begin to say yes to everything you notice as being trendy, rushing to blend in.
And, even if it might look like an understandable choice, in the long run it will show you the contrary. It is an exhausting game, pretending to be somebody you’re not, just to fit in. And it is also visible, but I’ve noticed this way later.
Because I used to be one of those yes-teens too. To say yes when it was actually no just to avoid arguments, to do things I wasn’t really fond of and say things I was not believing, just to fit in, to be accepted. To be like the others, the cool kids. Because I’ve always wanted a bit of that attention they were receiving so effortlessly. And I wasn’t so different from them, after all, was I?
Well, truth be told, I was. I’ve always had a different view about life than the popular kids around me. I liked things they couldn’t care less about. I had my inner world, my passions, my beliefs. Somehow, I’ve always been skeptical about sharing them with other people around me.
Then, high school happened. And a lot started to change. I discovered people who were more like me, and the fact that I have options to choose from. I spent more time with them, debating things we cared about till we eventually got tired, and less with old friends, which made me feel like I wasn’t good enough to fit in. Eventually, I got to spend time with them only when it was really required, like family gatherings.
But it was only in my university years when I discovered that I can say no. A small word with magical powers. A word I had always been afraid of.
I’ve been equally afraid of saying no, as I was of being told so. Of being rejected, dismissed as not good enough. Everything till one day, on my way back home, I had a revelation: I can either begin by being picky, or I will end up losing myself for good.
It was a tough thought to handle, especially thinking about the fact that I always hated to hurt people, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Took everything easy: spending more time with myself, making up excuses to avoid going somewhere where I already knew that I was going to feel uncomfortable, cutting off some long time friendships, as I noticed them becoming meaningless interactions.
The worst part of learning to say no was, though, the guilt. I was feeling guilty for rejecting people or invites almost all the time, and in the beginning the guilt trips were awful, but there came a day when I understood that, as long as I have the resources, I also have the power to choose where I will invest them.
It was, perhaps, the most liberating thing I’ve ever done. Learning to say no when it was no, instead of saying yes. This happened when I got to understand that saying no is not about rejection, it is about boundaries.
About knowing your needs, your passions, and your worth. About giving up on settling with whatever comes in your direction, and start choosing only what brings you joy. That saying no is not about being mean, as it is about self-respect. And the same thing goes for being told no, as well. Not being good enough for someone will not make you a failure. It only means that there are different needs to be met.
Of course, there are still moments when I say yes, but I mean no, but they are not that frequent anymore. Maybe this is the sign that I’ve grown up, but today I’m not afraid of saying or being told no anymore. Today I can easily say that it has become my favorite word, the one that makes life easier, as I can speak my truths without fears.
Because knowing where to draw the line requires to have spent enough time with yourself, so you know for sure what is and what isn’t meaningful to you. A good exercise for knowing when to say no to something is to ask yourself these three questions before: Is it true? Is it good? Is it useful? If the answer is mostly no, then no is what you should say to those things, too. It is the easiest way of finding out what is and is not for you, to see if it speaks true to you, if it’s something that is useful or brings you joy. If you have more than one negative answer to these questions, you can refuse without regrets.
I admit, learning never stops, especially when it comes to setting boundaries to others or, even better, to yourself. But learning is part of life, and we should not treat any of them like something limited or a chore.
At the end of the day, somehow, the only talk you need to have is the one about how much of who you are will you sacrifice for the sake of others. And if you feel like you’ve had enough of that already, then learn to unfit.
To unlearn all the toxic patterns which you’ve picked up along your way and which have taught you that the only way to be appreciated is to never say no. Actually, it seems like it’s the opposite: you’ll be really appreciated if you dare to stand up for yourself, knowing who you are. And that usually begins with declining everything you don’t feel it serves you in any way.
Saying no more often will only help your growth, your mental wellbeing, and will better filter the people around you, so, in the end, why wouldn’t you give it a try? Because, if you will keep saying yes to everyone and everything, you might, one day, discover that you were only saying no to yourself all this time.