The Year of Oh Hell No

I, like many others, was completely blown away when I first read The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. First of all, girl can WRITE. Secondly, yes! I was all, “Awww yeah. This is a great plan. I let my inner introvert take over and say no all the time so I’m totally doing a Year of Yes too. Finally someone is paving the way for me.”

And then I set out to actually do it. I said Yes to everything I wanted to say No to. (note: there’s an entire chapter in Shonda’s book about how sometimes saying Yes means saying No but we’ll get to that) Just two months into my own personal Year of Yes and I reached burn out.

I live in the same city as my therapist and see her over Skype. THAT’S how introverted I am.

“I feel like I have an actual number of Yesses in my lifetime,” I said to my therapist in a Skype session one day. “And maybe my number is just lower than most people’s. So what if I use up all my Yesses on shitty things and then physically cannot say Yes to another thing even if I really DO want to do it?”

“It’s possible,” she said from the other side of the computer screen. “Especially for you.”

So there I was, using up my Yesses on coffee dates with total strangers who wanted to “pick my brain”, taking on projects I wasn’t excited about, promoting things for other people when I hadn’t promoted my own work in God knows how long…. and more. I was Yessing dinners I didn’t want to attend, texts from acquaintances who wanted to get reacquainted, yoga classes I didn’t want to go to, and coffee I didn’t really want to be drinking(??!?).

As a pretty public introvert (that’s a thing, apparently), I had people all around me encouraging such behavior. Say yes more. Go out more. Do more. Be more. And I fell for it.

Yep, I told myself. I should be more outgoing, try harder to make new friends, take on unique challenges, support others even more often. I told myself it was all part of getting older. Of learning more about myself. Of pushing my own boundaries.

I even quoted freaking Rumi at myself: “Forget safety. Live where you fear to live.”


And then, a few months into my far-from-public completely unannounced experiment with saying Yes, I remembered another important Rumi quote:

“Respond to every call that excites your spirit.”

And then I realized something.

I’m already a Yes person. And it’s not so amazing for me.

Immediately, I quit.

I quit saying Yes to everything I wanted to say no to. I turned down coffee dates and interview requests. I said “hang on a second” to ideas that quickly became plans during my Yes weeks and took a closer look at them. I started saying no.

In the midst of the transition from Yes to No, I joked in a private Slack message to my co-worker, “I’m going to write the opposite of The Year of Yes.”

“You can call it My Year of OH HELL NO,” she typed back.

And so it was born.

I told another friend when we talked about picking up a project idea we had discussed just a few weeks prior. “I’ve decided I’m doing a Year of Oh Hell No,” I texted.

“I love that so much,” he quickly wrote.

See, my problem isn’t in not saying Yes often enough. Sure, I’m introverted and a driven creative strategist and the mom of a precocious toddler so when I have some free time I prefer to be left completely alone no one touch me or talk to me kthanksbye, alright? And I often don’t return texts from friends or accept invites to go out or really want to ever leave my house except under my own terms (is that weird??). But my problem isn’t actually in not saying Yes enough.

It’s that I say Yes too often to things I really and truly want to say No to and then I end up regretting it later. And resenting myself. And that thing I said Yes to.

I over commit, over schedule, overwhelm myself.

Worst of all, saying Yes to all of these other things leaves little Yesses left for ME. I rarely listen to my own needs, wants, and desires. Sure, I have my Pinterest boards and Amazon Wish Lists like every good basic white girl but do I ever do anything with them? Not a bit.

As it turns out, I’ve gone through life caring for everybody else except myself, for the most part. Do I go to yoga and workout regularly? Yes. Do I eat healthy foods for the most part? Sure. Do I take my vitamins? Sometimes. Physically I take care of myself. Mentally and emotionally? That’s another story.

While I’m busy Yessing all of the people around me, I’m neglecting the meditation practice I’ve been meaning to commit to, the daily writing that would get me to the book I dream of, the painting of that bookcase in my office I love and have been meaning to paint for roughly 2 years. Hell, I’ve definitely neglected about 432 naps I could have been taking all along.

And so, it’s time for a new commitment. Shonda Rhimes: If you’re reading this please know that I adore you and will keep watching every episode of Grey’s and Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder and I’ll read your books and watch the YouTube videos of your incredible speeches but I’m embracing my own year. You mentioned it in the context of a Yes in your book (that chapter titled Yes to No) but I’m renaming it for my personal use:

The Year of Oh Hell No.

Saying No when my gut tells me to. Giving a gracious “thanks but no thanks” when I get an invite that makes me want to run and hide. Saving all of my Yesses for myself so when I want them I have them. Practicing saying No to little things gives me courage to say No to big things that ultimately don’t serve me. Saying Yes more often to myself gives me the grace and courage to know myself better, love myself more, and ultimately be ready to give a resounding Yes to others because it also happens to be a Yes to me.

Who’s in for a Year of Oh Hell No? Do you know how many Yesses YOU have? Be careful what you give them up to… you never know when you’ll really need one.

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