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  • Writer's pictureEric Knabel

Thoughts From Six Feet Away: NO!

I have to admit, as I sit down to write these blog posts, I try to clear my mind as much as possible. In the process, I find myself looking back on my week, and random things I have thought and said. Before I get going this week, a couple of highlights from a truly chaotic week:

“Gatorade is marketing a new product with electrolytes. What exactly has been in Gatorade, to this point?”

“Excuse me, but how did we get from ‘back pain’ to ‘itchy scrotum?’ I’m missing a transition here.”

I’ve been posting these “Life Cheat Codes” for the past couple of months, and I’m blown away by people reaching out to me, to tell me that reading them has made a difference for them. I’d love for as many people to read them as possible, but I know my reach is only so far. I’m terrible at self-promotion, and as I reflect on my writing over the past few years, I’ve begun to realize how important it is that I do this. It’s a way of achieving immortality; my writing will likely outlive me, and maybe people will take comfort from my words after I’m gone, and that pleases me. My mom has even admitted to me that she has liked reading these blog posts, since it gives her insight into the kind of man I’ve become. I’m good with that.

Okay, enough waxing philosophical. Last week, we explored the idea of saying yes: saying yes to adventure, saying yes to opportunity. With that in mind, I’ll now give you my latest “life cheat code”:

Say “no.”

And here comes the record-scratching moment that turns everyone’s heads! “Wait a minute,” you may be saying. “Didn’t you just tell us to say ‘yes’ the last time?” Indeed I did, but in true Zen fashion, one must always navigate a balance. There must be a yang for every yin. In life, there are no such things as absolutes, and distinguishing the difference is everything.

Last time, I lamented that we are a society that says ‘no’ too often. In the immortal words of David Byrne, “How did I get here?” Perhaps our society delights in saying no because they are trying to exert control over a life that is in turmoil, in effect saying ‘yes’ to everything and making themselves miserable in the process! Perhaps we struggle with the lessons of ‘yes’ from last time because we have never learned to properly say no!

It happens in our jobs. “Bob, I’m going to need you to stay late tonight, because this project really needs to get done.” We sigh, and we regretfully call our families to let them know that we are being held prisoner, not by job demand, but by job expectations. After all, you don’t want to be accused of not being a team player, right? So you stay those extra hours and get the job done, but leadership never improves, and there will be another fire next week to put out, another windmill to tilt, because middle management tends to be a sower of chaos. How many dance recitals or ballgames have fallen victim to corporate inefficiency over time? To me, this is why corporate America has been so resistant to remote working scenarios: they will no longer be able to guilt people into staying beyond to do extra, uncompensated work.

It happens in our personal lives too. How many times have we fallen victim to expectations around extended family holidays? If you’re a married couple with kids, and you happen to both come from divorced parents, that’s four Christmases you have to potentially navigate every year, with each party vying for those prime holiday slots. So you feel the pressure every year, walking on eggshells and knowing that you will inevitably offend someone, because not only is it the season of giving, it is also rife with butthurt. So the compromise is 2-3 weekends gobbled up every December with family obligations. And you know what ends up getting rushed? Your own private family time at Christmas.

Now, I’m just giving examples here, and not everyone in those scenarios is dissatisfied with those arrangements, but it does illustrate a point. How often do we do things out of a sense of obligation, an implied restriction on our activity? We don’t want to rock the boat, so we say yes, often at the expense of our own inner peace and calm.

Stop feeling that way. Don’t give in to expectations or implied guilt. It’s okay to say no, to set boundaries. I’ve had to do it in my profession on a number of occasions. I have patients who have access to me, either through text or social media. I also know human nature, and the path of least resistance will forever reign supreme. It’s easy to text or shoot out a message on Facebook. But this also exposes me to liability because it’s not documented in the chart. I used to answer questions constantly, people calling me at home asking for prescription refills. And I will admit, I have done it myself with my own doctors. But I have now gotten to the point, when it’s not something simple, to remind them that they need to leave a message with my office so that it gets on the chart, for the sake of their own safety. I felt guilty about doing this at first, but I’ve discovered that most people understand when these boundaries are being set.

Feeling overwhelmed? It’s okay to say no to that family event. Kids have a game or a concert? It’s okay to say no to working late. I’ve had to remind myself many times that life is a marathon, and I’m never going to finish right if I keep sprinting when everyone tells me to. In the running world, they have a phrase: run your race. Don’t pay attention to the others; it’s just you, the course, and the time clock. Block out all the nonsense. If something makes you miserable, don’t say yes to it out of obligation, or at the very least, don’t subject yourself to it any longer than necessary. And if you have a job that continues to ask for more and criticizes you constantly for not being a team player to tend to your own needs, you may be in the wrong place. Families are a little more sensitive topics, but they’re supposed to love you and want what’s best for you. As with many things, open communication tends to be the salve in all potential wounds. Use it.

A lot less inspirational than last time, I understand, but it’s so important to set boundaries with things in our lives, and if we say ‘yes’ to the wrong things, it prevents us from saying ‘yes’ to the important things. Say ‘no’ to the anchors in life, so that you can propel yourself forward! And as always, be excellent to each other, and…

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