My post earlier in the week about life as an introvert seemed to strike a chord with some readers of DorkyMum – it’s always nice when that happens – so I thought I’d expand a little bit on one of the specific challenges I’ve faced.
Knowing when to say yes, and when to say no.
The most important thing I’ve learned as I’ve got older is how to say NO. I am a people-pleaser, and always have been. I hate confrontation, and can’t stand the thought of making folk unhappy. So I’ve spent many years accepting invitations to events I don’t want to go to and volunteering for committees I don’t want to be on. Age has taught me that, actually, it’s okay to say NO, and that it’s possible to do that firmly but politely.
The most important thing I’ve learned as I’ve got older is how to say YES. I am instinctively cautious, and would far rather stay at home reading a book than socialise with strangers or visit somewhere unfamiliar. Age has taught me that, actually, it’s okay to say YES, and that if you do that it can lead to happy adventures.
Isn’t it funny that both those things can be true?
What age has really taught me is that it’s important to be thoughtful before you respond to any question or make any decision. It’s important to work out why you’re leaning towards one way or another. It’s important to make sure your answer – whatever it is – is a good one.
The only difference that being an introvert makes is that those thought processes need to take place in private, rather than in public. Of course I will always seek advice from my inner circle – those friends and family members who know it all. I will absorb that advice and take it into consideration. But to make a good decision I need time, and space, and quiet. I need a long morning walk on the beach, or an hour of acupuncture, or ten quiet minutes with a cup of tea.
And then it becomes obvious.
A good yes is about courage, about pushing yourself upwards and outwards, about moving forwards.
A bad yes is about obligation and guilt.
A good no is about confidence, about self-respect and setting healthy boundaries.
A bad no is about fear, or stress, or worry.
I am still learning the difference between the two, and I think that’s a lesson that will take me forever. I will always make mistakes – sometimes I will say no and then worry that I’ve missed out on something great. Sometimes I’ll say yes, and then not enjoy an experience as much as I’d hoped to.
No one can get every YES right and every NO right, but the difference between me now and me ten years ago is that now I give myself the best possible chance of making the right decision. I never answer in haste. I never answer out of obligation. I am not afraid.
At the same time as trying to work all this out for myself, I’m trying to teach DorkySon the difference between the two. Gosh, it is hard. He, like me, is best left to do things at his own pace. I respect that.
This time nine months ago, you couldn’t have got him into face paint or a dress up costume for love or money. Now that he’s part of a kindergarten group who seem to have a birthday party every weekend, he’s happy to do both. By respecting his NO every time it came, it eventually turned into an enthusiastic YES.
Sometimes I like to surprise him. I can tell by the way he asks a question if he has already anticipated a NO from me. I’m sitting on the computer working, or I’m unloading dishes, or I’m on the phone.
“Can you play cars with me?”
“Can I have my Hobnob (or as he calls them nob-bobs) before my lunch instead of after?”
“Can we go to the park this afternoon?”
“Well yes, yes we can, sweet boy.”
The delight on his face fills me up.
When it comes to answering questions – of DorkyDad, of DorkySon, and of myself – I am trying to save NO for the times that really matter. Knives and electricity. Disrespect and intolerance.
To everything else I say yes.