"Excuse me, miss? What sort of product do you use in your hair?"
The mall was buzzing with shoppers, and I had to keep a quick pace to keep my heels from getting bumped by the wheels of a stroller behind me. I was in the spending-spree zone, and this woman standing by a hair boutique in the middle of the mall's walkway had stepped in front of me.
"If you give me five minutes of your time, I can tame those flyaways."
She was holding a straightener that looked like it was hungry for a lock of my curly, yet a little unruly, hair. I looked to the straightener, then right in the woman's eye and uttered a word that I was practicing using:
I narrowed my eyes at her and marched away with a toss of my hair, walking a little taller, brimming with the confidence that I had successfully defended myself against a bodega mosquito.
On the surface, this was a small feat. But I was a woman who said yes. Always. A few months before I would have stood with a sweet smile plastered on my face—though screaming internally—while I allowed a stranger to play with my hair in the middle of my busy day.
For me, saying "yes" started in school. I would take on the extra workload for the group projects. I would join the French club, the prom decorating committee, the show choir, the orchestra. I would be an editor of the school's newspaper.
I would volunteer myself for every extracurricular, padding my resume with activities I didn't particularly enjoy, but did simply for the sake of doing. The busier I was the more valuable I felt. And I was floored by people who said that they were "too busy" to help. Everyone is busy. Everyone has a packed schedule. Busy-ness wasn't a viable excuse. People who weren't highly involved were simply lazy.
I said "yes" to opportunities and activities not because I had a servant's heart, but out of arrogance. I thought if I didn't do something, no one else would be able to as well as I could. Plus, I just wanted to be liked. This didn't give me Christ-like humility. This made me a pushover.
Then graduate school happened, along with a full-time job. I was working nights, weekends, holidays, and all-the-while studying, writing papers and attending class. I barely could attend church, let alone volunteer. And if I hung out with friends, I was weighed down by the schoolwork I should be doing instead.
And yet, "yes," was still my favorite word in the dictionary.
Lately there are a lot of articles about self-care. About putting your needs first and volunteering when you have time. Studies have shown that no one—not even women—can multitask as well as they think they can. Any person who has ever texted while driving will tell you that.
I am a fan of this. I think it's important that women in particular set boundaries for themselves. That they know what their limits are when it comes to being an honorable friend, wife, mother or daughter; it's a very mature and genuine way of living.
Through years of this literature, I slowly began to let go of saying yes to everything. The boundaries were in place. My personal health and wellness came first. There would be plenty of time to help others after my needs were met.
But it wasn't long until the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. Until I had protected myself with bullets of that two-letter word until I wasn't responsible for anything except for my own interests. A "no" monster was born.
I said "no" to a volunteer opportunity in my church's soup kitchen, because I wanted to sleep in.
I said "no" to coffee with a friend so that I could concentrate on building up my career.
I said "no" to helping a family move because it interfered with my Saturday afternoon I was going to spend at the beach.
I practically kissed the bumper of the car in front of me on the interstate, and refused to let the new driver in front of me over during a traffic jam.
I'd let a call from a hurting person in my life go to voicemail because I simply didn't have the brain power to listen.
It got to the point where I was annoyed and defensive by the simple requests of others. Who did these people think they were to require so much of my precious time and energy? Why should I help them?
And then I realized what an incredibly selfish narrative I was living.
While it's well for us to be realistic about our limitations, it's also okay to say "yes" to the activities that will help others, build community and help you learn to love others better.
Saying "no" to everything traps you. It deadbolts the door to your heart. It puts you at the center of the world. And, if you believe in God, you know that's as far from the truth as the east is from the west.
So now, the tug-o-war in my life between saying "yes" and "no" has ended in a draw. And an understanding that being pursued for help, work, advice or volunteer hours isn't a burden. It's an honor.
We're asked because our friends, churches, families and workplaces think that we have something valuable to offer. The woman at the hair bodega isn't trying to puncture our plans, she's doing a job. The driver in the car in front of us in traffic isn't always out to get us.
And saying "yes" even when it's inconvenient for us can stretch our gifts and talents in ways that we never thought possible.
Related Posts: Am I Required to Say "Yes" to Every Opportunity?
Brett Wilson is a Christ-loving, single, curly-haired, left-handed coffee-addict. She is a public relations writer in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Brett lives with her best friend and a Boston Terrier named Regis. You can read more from Brett at her site, www.prodigalsister.com, or on Twitter.