By the time I was in college, I had almost zero ability to say no to a good opportunity.
I forewent sleep, sanity, and even doing my best schoolwork because I was a slave to saying yes. So much of my worth was tied to productivity, people-pleasing, involvement, and performance.
I crammed multiple majors into four years, ran cross-country and track, maintained a work-study job, and held various positions in student government. I socialized and dated and pulled all-nighters for my political science exams.
Don’t admire me. This was not impressive. This was insanity.
Periodically throughout the year, I’d suffer a low-grade mini-breakdown. I’d become emotionally undone, physically ill, or both. I didn’t connect the dots at the time but in retrospect I’ve realized that I habitually sipped the toxic cocktail of stress, success, and sleep deprivation.
I lived life as a functional yes-ahololic.
I’m really not sure how I did it but the trend began in late middle-school / early high-school and I just ran with it. Youth certainly played a part. I’ve joked with those closest to me that I used up all of my energy and serotonin by the time I was 30. They don’t disagree.
It’s hard to unlearn decades of habits even after we know better.
Physical limitations, time constraints, financial realities, and wisdom force me to say no to things all the time. But that doesn’t stop my mind and desires from screaming, But I want to do this! Why can’t we have this? Perhaps we can find a way to make it work.
Now that I’m a mom with kids who are old enough to have some interests and pursuits of their own, the yes and no stakes feel higher. I love these guys. I want the best for them. I want to expose them to opportunities that may uncover some of their own gifts and passions.
But I was ill-prepared for the bombardment of good things that have come our way. We’ve said yes when we should have said no. And we’ve even said no and then wondered if we should have said yes. We’ve learned the hard way and I’m not naive enough to believe that this trial and error stuff is all behind us.
Just last week my husband and I said no to a very good thing for one of our kids, a good thing that this kid had practiced and tried out for. After weeks of hard work, they met the requirements and were invited to be part of a terrific opportunity, full of possibility, enrichment, and community.
And we disallowed it.
The backlash was fierce. If I have to hear, But everyone else’s parents said yes one more time, I’m taking off for Mexico.
It’s not that we don’t love the opportunity. We do. It’s not that we don’t think this child would benefit. They would. The problem is simple: the child’s plate is full. The child is committed to other things: school, homework, a sport, church, and family. The child is still a child. We, as the child’s guardians and teachers, have to set boundaries to guard their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. As a result, we made a loving but very unpopular decision. We’re all still a bit raw from the emotional carnage.
In the whole scheme of things, it’s rather small. But it uncovered a gargantuan issue. An issue that’s layered with insecurity, fear, seeking peace in our children’s happiness, and comparison. It uncovered an ugly monster.
I don’t have a formula or checklist for decision-making. My husband and I are figuring this out as we go and seeking wisdom. He’s further along than I am.
Each family is unique. Each child is unique. Each paycheck is unique.
But there’s one thing we all have 100% in common: time.
We all have 24 hours in a day, no more and no less. We all have 7 days in a week, no more and no less. We were made to work and also to rest. There are God-given rhythms and requirements we cannot ignore.
But we do.
And I’d like to spend some time talking about this complicated issue that I’m still very much in the trenches of learning.
So come back next week and for a mini-series on this topic of margin and time and commitment. I suspect that most of us have unwittingly been co-opted by our own culture and by the monster of comparison more than we realize. We’ll talk about rest, opportunity cost, and seeking wisdom as we make decisions.
I invite you to join me.