Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Yes! Yes! Says She Who Means No

Readers. Wait, no. Friends. Sisters-- in Crisis and Anxiety. Ever find yourself in a similar situation?

Fellow Parent at Child's School: "Would you be able to help chaperone the museum trip?"

slight pause * opportunity to galvanize myriad reasons why not

Fellow Parent: "Because we're really short and I'm running out of options."

Matron: "Of course I can help with that!"

Or at work . . . .

Not Supervisor but Superior: "We really could use someone with your expertise and skills on this committee."

Matron: "Well . . . if you put it that way . . . sure."

The encounter can also be indirect. A sign up sheet! Stealth volunteer coercion! Sign up for cookies, potluck, volunteer opportunity, donate to gift pool, bring a neighbor a meal, shovel the elderly's sidewalks in January, pledge for the cancer walk, buy stale cookies from a child.

No one is there to force thy hand. No. Instead, thy hand moves on its own!

Yes, yes, yes! Sign her up!

Nearly nine months ago, the Matron experienced Complete Psychological Collapse. She didn't blog about this because, well, breakdowns (unless you're Heather Armstrong) are sort of un-bloggable. Ordinary. She's of the opinion that every single life on the planet can be summarized and assessed in terms of its collapses and repairs.

Among the many things that renewed the Matron was her willingness to learn a new language.


She also learned a key characteristic of that word.

Just because it is a short word, 'no' does not need accompanying information. No stands on its own. It is self-sufficient! This linguistic lesson was nothing short of miraculous for the Matron.

No. It's not only enough, sometimes it's perfect.

But the staggering data that the Matron has collected? ! She is astounded -- astounded -- by what she is sometimes asked to do. Now that some of these requests are bundled tight in the "No" pile, she has a better view of them.

Let's just examine a couple. Two, because they're so eye-opening, from a distance.

Recently, the volunteer coordinator of an organization for which the Matron volunteers A LOT called the Matron (she gives money too which shouldn't matter in this equation but does to her anyway). Not unusual, but instead of asking the Matron to volunteer for the organization, the coordinator asked yours truly to volunteer for HER personally. Would the Matron meet with the coordinator's husband, whom the Matron had never met -- for a couple of hours -- to help him 'through the hump' of a long overdue college paper. These people are in their fifties.

Coordinator: "and he just needs a couple of hours. A morning maybe to get over the hump of that overdue paper."

Matron: "How overdue?"

Coordinator: "Three years."

Matron: "What kind of hump?"

Coordinator: "He hasn't started."

No! No! No! said the Matron.

2. Actual Student Email

Dear Dr. Matron,

You were my favorite professor at College XX. Now that I've graduated and am in University YY, I'm wondering if you would mind editing a few of my papers? It's been recommended to me that I find someone to edit and thought you would be perfect! The first two are due on Monday so I would need the editing done by Friday since I have to work this weekend. I think you'll enjoy my papers!

Readers, Friends, Sisters: the Matron actually received a longer version of this EXACT EMAIL from a former student TODAY. She is only capable of capitalization here. Because she mostly wanted to scream.

"Enjoy my papers?"

No, no, no!

The gift of the "No" pile is not in rejection, per se. It is the instruction that the "No" offers. Because if she didn't say 'no,' she would be helping the husband over his hump and editing those student papers. She would be organizing a fifteenth technology training for colleagues who had the opportunity to take the first fourteen she offered. Instead of watching her son's school choir concert, she would be ushering other parents to their pleasant seats or monitoring infants somewhere else.

Is this a uniquely female characteristic? In an essay, Joyce Carol Oates says that she can't understand why women drink at the well of masochism. Self-sacrifice and denial. The Matron can't speak for you, dear reader, but the Matron will acknowledge that she is familiar with that well.

The final beautiful quality of "no"?

Sometimes it frees up the "yes" in search of dream and desire. Yes.


Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

Oh my. I get it.

I've gotten so much better at "no" that it is delicious, like chocolate. Always there, always delicious, and best used in moderation or during times of distress. Golly, I might be onto something there . . .

Your student reminded me of the time that another blogger (back in the days when I actually used to post things), emailed me to say that she had several posts she wanted me to proof for her, and could I do them right away because the subject matter was timely for her. Um. No. Mmmm. Tasty that no.

I still peek in on you from from time to time, your posts being as delicious to my eyes as no is to my mouth.


Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

Oh heck, chocolate and "no" can also be used liberally, as necessary. What's this moderation stuff of which I spoke? Silly me. That "chocolate and no" comparison needed a bit more thought.

Suburban Correspondent said...

I don't have any problem with no, myself; but I do think that many women over-volunteer because we are wired for connection. Volunteering is a way to connect.

Oh, and an editor should earn 30 dollars an hour, at least. I average 40. Perhaps if you say yes and include your rates, that would slow down the requests.

Anonymous said...

This anonymous reader must know: Would you ever have said yes to the student email?

Minnesota Matron said...

Anonymous: no. Never, ever. I get requests from students all the time to 'edit' their work. I don't even edit their papers in my classes. But I don't do free editing/writing for students past or present because that's my job : -)! And you? Fellow teacher?

Anonymous said...

I've learned two things: "No" means someone else will have an opportunity (good thing) and it alleviates the resentment building inside me when I say "yes" and don't mean it (VERY good thing).

MJ said...

"Stop me before I volunteer" is my middle name. I think I need intensive counselling to get "no" as part of my vocabulary.

Gail said...

I think you have to be 40-ish to learn the power of "NO". I know I was. Perhaps as younger people we think we can do everything, and then as we age we realize we certainly can't. Good for you to recognize that power.

Deb said...

I agree, no is a word that needs to be practiced and exercised. My first experience with saying no to a myriad of requests came when my husband was first diagnosed with cancer. Saying no was easy then (and believe it or not, people still asked!) and it was so FREEEING!!! Oh, my gosh! I never forgot how good it felt and I've kept it up all these years later. I get really stressed personally when I say "yes" too much.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Dear Matron, I am so glad you have learned the language of "No." I've practiced it for the past year and it is a wonderful language. It saves my time and energy for the beauty of "Yes!"