What images or feelings arise when you hear that phrase?
For me, it's a mixed bag of conflicting emotions. Struggling with a desire to help others and the uncomfortable need to take care of myself.
Saying "no" is a challenge. I feel selfish and mean when I say it. (I'm embarrassed to admit that I also feel weak sometimes when I say it.)
Frankly, multitasking and taking on lots of responsibilities is something I've come to thrive on. There's a thrill in seeing how much I can do on little sleep and while still being functional.
Those of you nodding in unison as you read this will probably agree that teaching is a good fit for a person with this proclivity.
Working in a small school demands I wear many hats. Teaching in general dictates that we are many things to many people and feeling like a hero sometimes feels nice. I'm not too big to admit that.
However, as I transitioned from newish teacher to middle career teacher and started developing interests outside of work and my son grew up enough to have a life as well, saying yes all the time was no longer an option.
We were sitting in our weekly professional meeting and my principal was speaking, she was looking for volunteers for something. The room fell silent. It sounded like a great opportunity for the kids. We never want to deny students great learning experiences. That's always where it gets me.
But there was definitely a "BUT" coming... I could feel it.
My initial impulse was to raise my hand and take on more.
A friend, reached across the table as she could see me getting antsy in the silence. She held my hand down (just a few days before, I went to her classroom feeling overwhelmed with what was on my plate already) and gave me a knowing look, reminding me of that conversation.
She said, "Starr, you have to learn to say 'no' sometimes. It doesn't make you weak or mean or that you don't care; it just means that you care about yourself also and in this job, you must make time for yourself."
I knew what she was saying was the truth. It felt right. But I struggled... I struggle with "no".
She said, "Say it with me right now... NO."
"No!" I said.
"Say it like you mean it now."
She was right. It was liberating. Taking on this new commitment would have been a mistake. We all would have paid for it and I would have developed a resentment which is no good for anyone.
Although teachers are hard-wired for help, we need to understand the necessity of self-preservation. It is okay to say no when you are already overextended, as a matter of fact, knowing yourself well enough to understand that less is more sometimes is a sign of maturity.
As the new year is about to wind up, I'm reminding myself of this important message and I wanted to share it with all of you too.
There will be many initiatives, opportunities to volunteer, students who need help or colleagues who need help all the time. Say yes when you can, but remember: it's okay to say no; I give you permission (for those of us who need that).
How do you know when enough is too much? Where is your breaking point? Share your tips, please.
*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher Blog Work in Progress on 8/22/14