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The Power of “No” – A Guest Post

SBM friend, Stephanie, is your average, everyday, crazy-pants single mom. When she’s not working ridiculous hours or trying to keep up with her three teens, Stephanie can be found spending an insane amount of time splashing like a drowning cat in the pool, plodding along, red-faced or dodging cars. She’s currently training for her first half Ironman (fingers crossed) next summer in Augusta, Georgia. She guest posted for SBM awhile back, giving us all a great reminder as to WHY we must wear our helmets. Here’s some words of wisdom as we near the holidays.


The universe likes to teach me lessons. Before it just kicks me in the head, it will usually give me subtle reminders to do or not to do something. I’m trying to pay attention so as to not get kicked in the head. (Seriously, one head injury a year is enough!)

Recently, I’ve been reminded of the power of the word “no.”

I know I am guilty- especially during the ‘holiday’ time of the year to over-extend myself in an effort to keep the guilty-single-mom-monster at bay. I’ll sign up to bake extra cookies, host a party, work an extra shift at work, and make special homemade gifts for all the teachers while trying to keep my house looking like a Norman Rockwell painting. I fall for it every year – (except last year- I’ll get to that later) and I am here to tell you, folks, it ain’t happening! There’s really only so much one solitary person (with or without a partner) can do physically or financially. With this yearly pattern, each January, I wound up feeling deflated and much poorer than I had been. Trying to give to everyone else drained me dry.

Not me. Or my house.

I was being chased by the guilty-single-mom-monster again until this past week when I was gently tapped on the shoulder by the Universe ….and reminded of my need to take care of “me”… in addition to the power of saying “no.”

I wound up working from home this past week and as a result was trying to watch out for the sanity of my employees from afar. One in particular is an excellent worker and regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty- to a fault. At some point, it becomes a detriment to his productivity and positive attitude. I wasn’t at work all week to stop him from doing this but rather found out about his burnt-out state almost too late to do anything about it. It came up in conversation with my supervisor who responded, “It’s a matter of maturity. He needs to stop this so he can concentrate on doing his job and doing it well.”

OUCH.  Maturity.

Yes, I suppose it is about maturity. I am JUST as guilty as this employee is of doing the exact same thing: trying to be the superhero for my clients and giving them more than what I can reasonably give them. I personally want to be all things to all people but the reality is no one can do that.  [SBM calls this BETES:  the “Being Everything to Everyone Syndrome”] ….It’s necessary to sometimes say, “no, I really can’t help you with that.”

SBM Stephanie in her natural environment

This same week, since I was away from work and on my own time, I decided to help out at a homeless shelter.  As I was readying myself for the work, I read through the volunteer manual. Two statements stuck out at me as I read through the manual:

“… Although it is difficult to say ‘no’ it is only in saying ‘no’ to some needs that we are consistently able to say ‘yes’ in meeting other needs….”

 “Do be patient with yourself, with other volunteers and with guests.”

Seriously, the folks at Manna House… awesome

OK. Two very big areas that I have trouble with: telling others no and being patient- mostly with myself. You have my attention, Universe.

I went to do my volunteer time and was given many opportunities to say no and yes. I was struck by how peaceful I felt at the end. I didn’t feel guilty about saying no. I just said it, moved on and was happily able to say yes to many things. 

Later that day, when I got home and had time to really reflect, I remembered what happened last holiday season …when I said no and simply retreated.

Last year, I went through a break up with my husband. It was traumatic and left me reeling and empty. I was so deeply hurt I couldn’t bring myself to give of myself to anyone- not even my own children. My vessel wasn’t just empty, it was bone dry and cracked at the bottom. In that state, I opted to say “no” to everything. We didn’t put up a tree, I steadfastly refused to listen to holiday music and avoided watching holiday movies and managed to do what little Christmas shopping I could do online so as to avoid the decorations there as well. When the children went away to their dad’s for the holiday I was left to spend Christmas Eve and Morning alone. I chose to spend it out riding.

So, at the crack of dawn on Christmas Morning 2011, I bundled up, hopped on the bike and began to ride.

Around noon that day, I found myself downtown wandering the streets. Since it was Christmas Day, no one was out and about. I was hoping to find some place to grab a quick bite before heading back home. It was about time that I was accosted by a friendly stranger: “Are you hungry? We’re feeding folks today at Westy’s free of charge. Go! Join us for lunch.”

Jake, the owner is a pretty great guy.
If you find yourself in Memphis, stop by and say hello

Curious, I wandered over where I was greeted outside by three more Westy’s employees: “COME IN! You look hungry and cold” My bike was quickly secured inside, I was ushered in, given a seat, a hot cup of coffee and a wonderful hot Christmas meal surrounded by all types of people. Some were homeless, some had homes but were desperately poor and then there were those in the crowd like myself: not without financially but had found themselves emotionally bankrupt and alone on what should have been a joyous time at home with loved ones.  Folks, while ‘my cup’ wasn’t magically refilled by this, I can say that the crack in the bottom was finally mended.

I was embarrassed, and frustrated with myself as I sat there trying hard not to cry all over my chicken. I gave in and cried.

One of the ladies came up and without asking why I was bawling my eyes out, simply said, “It’s okay, be patient with yourself. It’s okay to cry.”

Is it coincidence that I am hearing the same message again this year? I think not.

So to all you triathlon friends out there who are busily beating yourself up and getting frustrated over things–big and small–please, stop.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t ALWAYS get that work out in just like you are supposed to, or if you slip up and have that piece of Aunt Martha’s cake.

The world will not explode if everything your house doesn’t like Martha Stewart lives there… but rather looks like Auntie Em’s house at the end of Wizard of Oz.

I assure you that the world will continue to spin you don’t volunteer to bake four dozen cookies for your kid’s second grade class, again.

Know your limits. Practice saying ‘no’.

Be kind, gentle and patient with yourself and others.

And as our favorite Swim Bike Mom likes to say, “Just keep moving forward”

Me and two of my SB Kids this past summer.
We’re not perfect but they are perfectly wonderful.


    • Stephanie

      November 14, 2012 at 10:17 pm

      Sarah, it happens eventually but there are times when the seal needs work again. Holidays are the hardest.
      I think it’s harder, as a single parent to take care of yourself because it feels selfish but it’s also more important; there’s no one to take care of you, the kids and everything else if you fall apart. Be kind to you and know it will get better.

  • Susan A

    November 14, 2012 at 8:37 am

    Oh my goodness. I am fighting back tears since I don’t have time to reapply makeup before going to work! So moving, and what a great message. Every holiday season I get sucked into the “I’m not enough” syndrome. I struggle with things (and me) not being perfect.Stephanie’s post could not have come at a better time.

  • TriBabe Terry

    November 14, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    I am wiping away tears after reading this. I SO needed to hear this today (whether I will listen is another story). I’ve been moping around due to a leg injury, frustrated and my inability to even walk well. This is another message from the universe to stop it and do what I can. Thanks for sharing.


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