“You OK?” It’s a question I’ve asked before, to friends, family, and coworkers. But this time is different. Because this time I’m asking myself the question. I think over my day, my week. Am I calm and under control? Or am I anxious and overwhelmed? It seems like most people, including me, feel like they have to answer this question in the affirmative. “Sure. I’m fine.”
But am I? Am I saying yes when I should really be saying no? Or not entirely?
When I say boundaries, I mean what we’re willing to take on and what we’re NOT willing to take on. When we have boundaries, we set ourselves up for a life where we’re able to trust and care for ourselves and others without being captured in the cycle of exhaustion and burnout.
I know I’ve been there. Actually, in the spirit of honesty, I’ll admit I’m currently there. I am a people pleaser. I want to say yes. I want to make other people’s lives lighter by doing my part. And there’s even some self-interest involved too. I feel good when I’m able to swoop in and save the day. But there’s a flip side to all this seemingly altruistic behavior, and it often manifests itself in the form of stress, frustration, and resentment.
This is the part where I hope no one from my daughter’s kindergarten class is reading. (See? I still care about what other people think; I don’t want to disappoint anyone.) I recently volunteered to help with a fundraising event for the school’s art program. This is what went through my head in a split moment when faced with the opportunity:
Do I love art? Yes! Do I think art is meaningful and worthwhile in public education? Yes!
I signed up. What I chose to ignore during that decision process was the following:
Do I have the time to invest in this project right now? No. Absolutely not.
I found myself running from store to store, tracking down a very particular hinge required for the project. I spent more time than I’d like to admit trying to locate another strangely particular supply item by calling four, maybe five different warehouses. I finally found what I needed online, but I was frustrated to find out it wouldn’t be delivered in time. I started complaining to anyone who would listen about how time-consuming this project had become. These disappointments weren’t earth-shattering by any means, but when combined with all the other things on my plate at the time, they became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. My enthusiasm for the arts and this fundraiser was replaced with resentment. Let me remind you, this was my choice. I had to take responsibility for my choice, but it became very easy to blame others—the stores, the lack of lead time, the other obligations demanding my attention. Embarrassing.
So, how will I learn from this, and one million other instances of saying “Yes!” when I should’ve answered differently? The beloved author and boundaries guru, Dr. Brené Brown, said:
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. We can’t base our own worthiness on others’ approval (and this is coming from someone who spent years trying to please everyone!). Only when we believe, deep down, that we are enough can we say ‘Enough!’” (Source)
So, is it possible to serve others, to volunteer, and to accept our efforts as enough? I think so. Is it possible to say no without being overcome with guilt or inner shame? I’m working on it.
In Mosiah chapter 4, King Benjamin shares numerous instructions on how to serve and administer to others. It is beautiful. And it is also a lot. It makes me think of the to-do list most Relief Society presidencies are probably working on at the moment. But here comes the familiar verse 27, a verse we seem to forget to implement:
“And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength” (Mosiah 4:27).
I will always have a long list of things to do. I am resigned to that fact. What I need to remember when deciding what and how many of those things to take on in the moment is wisdom.
Are you on board? Want to be wise with me? With most endeavors, preparation is key and so is the Spirit. Thoughtfully preparing, praying for help, and listening to the promptings of the Spirit gives me extra confidence to decide which things deserve a “yes” and which deserve a “no, thank you.”
“Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost” (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2).
So I thought about what I might say when my boundaries are being challenged and I feel that knee-jerk “Yes!” coming out of my mouth. I’ve decided to try this:
“I’m overloaded and will have to decline this time.”
Trust me when I say the act of just typing that sentence makes me uncomfortable. But as Brené Brown suggests, I’m going to try to “choose discomfort over resentment.”
I’m convinced that my Heavenly Father wants me to grow, but He also gives me permission to do it at a pace that won’t induce adult meltdowns. Consider a world where we can feel empowered to say a decisive yes when we can and no when we need to. What a relief. What freedom. Want to meet for lunch and talk about it this week? No? I’m totally okay with that.