Learn To Say No

Today, a parable.

Last Monday, my two youngest kids, aged 4 and 5, asked to be carried upstairs to bed. It’s customary in our household. I do it because I know they find comfort in being gently whisked to the bedroom. Also, I’m the Best Dad Ever™. So when my kids ask me to make life fun, I oblige.

This particular night, however, my shoulder hurt. A minor injury sustained during a hallowed pastime: reading my phone in bed at a weird angle because it’s plugged into a charger thereby straining my shoulder muscle.

Not the kind of pinged nerve that makes your elders trot out the village albularyo (shaman) to weave his healing powers. But it did hurt.

So my son clambers up my back and clings to my neck. I lift my daughter with my right arm. All good.

We ascend the stairs.

On step 2 my son decides he wants a glass of water.

He’s already had a glass of water.

But, you know, kids.

He lets go of my neck and slowly slides down my back.

I’m 6’1” and it’s about a 2-second journey for a boy his size. Enough time for him to completely ignore my command to NOT LET GO, flip upside down, and fall to the floor like Spiderman losing his Spidey powers.

You know those Facebook video compilations of dads being dads, saving their kids from falling, sliding, or hurtling through the air? 

That was me, in an instant. Remember, Best Dad Ever™.

I pivoted, deftly grabbed my son, stepped back down the stairs, and lowered him to the floor.

At which point, the pain in my shoulder went from tentative to tingling.

When I woke up, it was abysmal. I took the morning off.

Now the moral of the story might as well just be “get some exercise”. Because let’s face it, many of us are middle-aged (or approaching it) and not moving like we used to. We’re all a bunch of chip-chomping, binge-watching, over-privileged sad sacks whose only form of exercise is getting out of bed each morning and walking 10 feet to the workstation.

And by we, I mainly mean me.

But no, that’s not the moral of the story. What I wanna tell you is it’s OK to say no sometimes.

In fact, it’s healthy and highly recommended that you learn to say “no” in life.

Like I should have said no to my kids instead of being a hero. When you’re middle-aged, out of shape, and nursing a dodgy shoulder, the last thing you need is to carry your kids up a flight of stairs like you’re the star of Rescue 911 (a dated TV reference, if there was one).

What I should have done is politely decline, let them whine, and carry on.

The same is true of life in general.

Sometimes, people will ask you to do something that you’re incapable of doing at that particular moment. Could be a task at work, a favor at school, and request from family.

Sometimes, people turn to you coz you are a rockstar and get things done.

Don’t let that cloud your thinking.

Because sometimes, you ain’t Nike. You just can’t do it.

You might be fully booked. Or you don’t like the project. Or perhaps you genuinely don’t have the skills to help them.

The problem is, we’re mostly polite and hate the thought of turning people down. Especially when they look at you with Puss-in-Boots eyes. Or when they give you a sob story that breaks your heart and cracks open your wallet.

We don’t want to hurt people. Most of us instinctively want to help.

And that’s a good thing!

Except when you genuinely can’t help. Because when you start saying yes to everything, when you overextend yourself, when you take up a Herculean task with a handicapped shoulder, you’re not actually helping people, you’re doing them – and yourself – a disservice.  

You might end up letting them fall.

Perhaps you’ll do a fantastic save and be Rockstar of the Year™. But what about the next day, when you’re unable to get out of bed and go to work? When your wife needs to you carry some heavy things and you can’t because boo-hoo, your back hurts?

You get the gist.

Learn to say no. It can be done nicely and firmly. People will actually respect you for it. The kids will whine, but they’ll survive. And so will you.

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