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What does it say about someone if their most enduring fantasy is a long nap? On a scale of 1 to 10, exactly how depleted does one need to be to want nothing more than to lie in a dark room under a heavy duvet for, oh, about 14 uninterrupted hours?
I’m Lara Pingue, a digital editor at The Globe and Mail – and I’m tired. Lately, my exhaustion has defined me, shrinking me down into a shadowy, crankier version of myself.
The plot line of the haggard woman is about as cliché as boy-meets-girl. And that’s because some of us – most of us, maybe – are chasing down that elusive goal of Having It All. (Which, I regret to inform you, probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon, as this landmark essay by Anne-Marie Slaughter famously pointed out in 2012.)
So, I get that we probably can’t have it all. But apparently, we still need to do it all.
For those keeping tabs, we women should: Lean In, tidy up, have more sex, cut out emotional labour, show gratitude, stop sweating the small stuff and smash the patriarchy. Also, for the love of God, please lose 10 pounds and stop slouching.
So, I’m saying no. With apologies to Sheryl Sandberg, I’m done with leaning in. I’m leaning back.
My year of saying no started quietly in January, when I stopped waking up at 4:30 a.m. every day for work. With a new role arranged at my job, I was no longer stumbling to the train at 5:15 a.m. and utterly useless by dinnertime. Saying no to predawn drudgery – check.
On the home front, it went like this: no more polite small-talk with door-to-door solicitors; no more 45-minute standoffs with my picky eater at dinnertime; no more volunteering for thankless community tasks. When my oldest son came home with a fundraising project for school, I did what I always do: I silently fumed as I calculated the hours it would suck out of my life. Then, a revelation. I could just say no. I put the sign-up sheet on our fridge and willfully ignored it for three weeks before sending it back with exactly zero pledges. It was my most defiant no so far.
Sarah Knight, who literally wrote the book on saying no, says she’s found the answer to saving time, money and energy by cutting out the things she doesn’t care about. In my own life, for instance, I care about fundraising for my son’s school, but not enough to spend my weeknights harassing friends and neighbours for cash. This way of thinking has emboldened me to be ruthless about protecting what matters: my family and friends, our health, my career and the sanity of our day-to-day life. I can – and must – say no to the rest (albeit not always easily).
It took a full six months for the word “no” to become a reflex. Parent council meetings? No. Hosting a big family holiday. No. Baking a 47-ingredient dessert for a party? No. I’ve come a long way with my just-say-no campaign. But it turns out I still can’t, or won’t, say no to all of life’s drudgeries. (In fact, I somehow said yes to becoming the secretary of my Parent Council, so my aforementioned no was laughably short-lived.)
I’m not alone in this struggle. As Oprah Winfrey once revealed: “There is always this innate fear that if I say ‘no,’ I’m going to somehow be discarded or dismissed or unloved." Author and CEO Carrie Kerpen takes it a step further. She argues that vanity and guilt fuel much of our “saying yes” tendencies, and we’ve got to cut it out. (Her tips for saying no are priceless; key point: stop apologizing.)
Today I’m at the 10-month mark, and yes, I’m still tired. But I recognize now the power in saying no, the small thrill of shutting down and shutting out. Saying no has given me a tiny slice of control, or at at least the illusion of it. It has, oftentimes, afforded me five minutes to think about something else, or nothing at all. It’s not big, but it matters. Sometimes it’s all I’ve got.
So I will keep going, saying no to the things I hope don’t matter and trying to say yes to what might pay off. And I’ll cross my fingers it all works out. Until then, there’s always the fantasy of a 14-hour nap.
What else we’re reading:
Unpopular opinion: I actually like when powerful women are asked, “How do you do it?” It’s true, nobody frets about who’s minding the children when a man is in charge, but I still think the question is worth asking. That’s why I’m hooked on The Cut’s How I Get it Done series, an unvarnished look at how high-profile women manage to keep it together. Among my favourite interviews: Samantha Bee, the Canadian comedian and host of Full Frontal, who admits her smartphone habit is harming her eyesight and her morning routine with her kids is a gong show; also, food goddess Giada De Laurentiis says she’s learning to say no (naturally, that speaks to me).
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