“I’m just a girl who cain’t say no,
Cain’t seem to say it at all
I hate to disserpoint a beau
When he is payin’ a call!” — Ado Annie, Oklahoma!
I’m just a girl who cain’t (spelling accurate :D) say no. However, unlike Ado Annie in the musical Oklahoma! this has nothing to do with men.
I read an article that described people pleasers as individuals who:
… strive to keep peaceful relationships in our lives, balance, and often have a tendency to assist others in need. Hey, we care about them right? The problem is if you always feel compelled to help, or overextend yourself, it can come at the expense of your own happiness.
Like many people, I have trouble saying no to people. To events. To offers to be involved in this or that, even at the expense of my own happiness. I cannot recall a time that I wasn’t involved in some sort of extracurricular activity(s). I’ve been overbooked and underpaid and a people pleaser since I was 6.
I’m just that girl. The one who is always going this and that. For example at one time I was: on the Girl Scout Board of Directors, the Virginia Cooperative Extension/4-H BoD, a debutant, on the Varsity Indoor Track and Field Team; a teen leader at 4-H camp, a counselor at NCCJ Anytown Diversity Camp, had a part-time retail job, and was a High School Senior. Yes, all at the sane time.
I defined myself through the activities I was in. I won a diversity award my first year of College over a major corporation; at 17 I had done more for diversity than a multi-million dollar business. What?!
I don’t know how to slow down, pare down, limit myself to only one thing I love. I love lots of things…why should I pass up opportunities to serve, better myself, upgrade my resume, network with the right people, get myself and my name out there? Right now I’m even on a lighter load than normal. I’m a full-time full course-load PhD student; a Graduate Teaching Assistant who runs my departments Student Services office and works on recruitment and MPA student milestones; a fitness instructor; secretary of the Graduate Chapter of my sorority; board member of a nonprofit; gift committee member for my class at my Undergraduate university; volunteer at another nonprofit; and beginning the Sorenson Institute’s Political Leaders Program. Oh yeah, and I’m planning a wedding and becoming part of a new family, while still maintaing my own.
This week a mentor challenged me to be okay with saying no — to not being at an event due to a conflict — to evaluating what is on my plate and removing the excess. Her words hit home, and were difficult to process. If you’ve always defined yourself by your calendar, by your involvement by what you do with your time — how do you learn to say no and narrow your scope? Further, what if you don’t want to narrow your scope? What if you can’t decide what your “one thing” is? Or better — what if you feel your calling is to have your fingers in many pots to give of yourself to more than one thing?
How does one determine what is their “one thing”? Or even that they are supposed to only have one thing? I do admit, and own that I find it difficult to limit my activities. After I presented my paper to the faculty for my MPA final requirement, at lunch we were all chatting about programs. I mentioned that the MPH might have a higher appeal for employment. One of my professors quickly and loudly stated that I under no circumstances may get another degree. I really wasn’t thinking about it, at that point in time. And I do know I have four degrees. However, isn’t that my choice? If I wanted seventy-five degrees, or if I had just stopped after Undergrad. There is a method to my madness, but if you don’t ask then I’m sure it does seem a bit wack-a-doodle for a girl to have a BA, JD, MPA, and PhD. Even so, wack-a-doodle or not ….why are we seemingly limited by outsiders assumptions of our paths and limitations? That professor knows me quite well, but I’m not sure they know why I am in the programs I am — nor has that professor asked. Does it upset me, not really — but I wonder if that Proff knew, if it would give them better incite as to the legitimacy of my academic quests.
Again, I admit and own that I have trouble not being a part of it all. And that is something that I have been challenged to address, and I think it is time that I address that. I have to learn to be okay with polite declines for participation. I have to be okay with begining to really explore my focus, and determining what projects are worth my time and effort — and which are perhaps left overs from a bygone era of my personality or are simply window dressing that can be trimmed. I don’t think I will ever have one singular focus — in local and state politics a person must be (in some ways) a jack of all trades. They can focus on that issue, or another issue — but they must be prepared to address all issues presented to them for a vote or from their constituency. So I believe my ability to multitask interests will be helpful in that respect.
And, I actually am lying that I don’t have a focus in life — it’s just my focus’s all melt together for one outcome. It’s not my “one thing” it’s my passions (plural) that will hopefully funnel into my being able to look back on my life and say — yeah I achieved my goals, I helped someone, I created lasting change for the greater good. So I don’t have that ONE thing, I have lots of things — and I think for me, that may be exactly where it should be. For example, if you ask me about my academic interests– my larger focus is the intersection of public administration and the judicial system. More narrowly, I look to issues of crime and punishment. Narrower still the implications of social issues and “isms” on crime (race, gender, sex, poverty, education, finances, food) and the purpose of alternative forms of punishment and justice (community policing, rehabilitation programs, restorative justice). If you as me about my volunteer work — it’s with my Sorority and the Charity I am a board member of — Charitable Actions Revolution (find us on facebook HERE, and the story of car in a PREVIOUS blog post). Both are organizations that spend time giving services to mankind. My sorority gives service to the minority population of my city, along with students, and causes that effect women. CAR seeks to help those who are bullied or belittled in any way — from the LGBT community that started this crazy idea, to the poor, to the hungry….anyone. If you ask me about my BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goals — see HERE) then it is to run for political office one day — perhaps to be Governor or in the Federal Senate. I want that kind of bully pulpit to help others, to effect positive change in my community, and to continue to ensure that the minority (be it race, creed, religion, social position, whatever) have a voice rooting for them. What about personal goals? Well, I want to be a good wife to my future husband— if I get knocked on the head hard enough, a good mother — on top of those normal bucket list items.
So perhaps for some of us, beneath the overpacked schedule and stress is not just one BHAG. I think for me I have a BHAG as a large sunny yellow umbrella — and crowded underneath are all of the smaller goals, tasks, obligations, organizations, and commitments that keep the BHAG standing upright. This is not to say my life can’t use some trimming, I think most of ours can — and I know just where to start.
I can’t be everywhere, I can’t be everything, and I can no longer try so hard to fit in where I just don’t belong. I have an amazing family, I have amazing friends, I have amazing colleagues who all support me. They know if I can’t be there its not for lack of want, for laziness or anything negative — they know I’m busy. They recognize my path and only want me to keep moving forward on it, even if that means that sometimes I’m not right beside them on their own path. Some people I know, and people I will continue to meet just aren’t in those categories. And that is okay. I cannot please them, and while doing so — sacrifice who I am. So they will just have to be displeased, and I will take comfort in knowing that I am working towards my BHAG as best I can. And by doing this, I think I’ll be more satisfied, have a little less stress in my life, and have way more moments of happiness — because that time I’m taking worrying about them will be spent with those who do support and respect me for who I am — not for who they think I should be.
My fiance has been trying to get me to this realization for eons. However, I think that sometimes you have to have someone challenge you who you see as legitmate. My fiance is of course a legitimate person with ideas, and he only wants the best for me because he loves me. But what I mean by legitimate is that you can see that person’s path and think, that’s amazing — how can I do that with my BHAG’s? How can I do that with my life? You don’t want to be them — but you want to work with them, learn from them, and have the privilege of them seeing your work and effort as legitimate (even if it is in a different discipline than their own). Thankfully I have that.
To my mentor: I am taking your challenge head on. Thank you for seeing something in me that needed to be addressed, that I wouldn’t/couldn’t see in myself. Thank you for having the bravery to call me to the carpet in such a loving and respectful way. Thank you for ALL of the opportunities you have given me and continue to give me to grow, learn, try new things, and work with you. I’ll make you proud, and more importantly I will make myself proud. Thank you. Really.