It all started in March.
The sign-up for the popular Beach to Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth was happening on a Friday in the middle of the month. I had run in the race for the past five years and felt like I should sign up again.
I was traveling the day before and forgot to set my alarm—with the time difference, I woke up about an hour after the online registration opened. Since the race sells out in mere minutes, I’d missed out. But instead of pangs of regret, I felt a great sense of relief.
Without planning on it, I had said “no,” something I don’t often do.
Shonda Rhimes, Dartmouth alum and creator of primetime TV staples “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” published “Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person” in 2016. After being called out by family for never saying yes to anything, she agreed to say yes to everything that scared her for a year. She lost weight and got a sweet book deal. I couldn’t be happier for her. (Though, maybe she should have said no to what I assume is the hundredth season of Grey’s? Seriously, how many more terrible things can she put the title character through?)
Once I accidentally said no to the Beach to Beacon, it started a domino effect.
I’d been taking on a lot outside of my regular job, which is already demanding. Freelance work, helping with friends’ weddings and showers, saying yes to everyone.
Then one weekend, I burst into tears in public. My boyfriend’s face was equal parts horror and pure confusion. I held my head in my hands and just mumbled, “I’m exhausted. I’m burnt out.”
I don’t have kids. I don’t have a 20-acre farm to maintain. I don’t have a small startup I’m trying to get off the ground. I’m not curing cancer. My crime is saying yes to everyone else.
Growing up my mother struggled with the same issue. She said yes to everyone and everything: church responsibilities, school committees and booster clubs for me and my brother, in addition to having a job, a husband and two kids.
Saying no was a dirty word, and I remember growing up with conversations around the dinner table with the phrase, “if only she could say no…”
Now she is the one telling me to utter that tiny little word.
She sees me struggle and reminds me, “Just say no!”
I suspect my advancing age and lowered bone density has also lowered my tolerance for BS. Or maybe I have reached enlightenment with the realization that if I don’t prioritize myself, my sleep and my mental health, then I will have no one to blame but myself when I have a freak-out. (Ahem, like crying in public.)
Saying no allows me time to say yes to things that I choose. Now the real work begins: Figuring out what goals I am working toward by saying no to everyone else, and saying yes to me.
Katie Bell is a Portland-based freelance writer who has contributed to publications throughout Maine, New England and London.