Amy Rees Anderson

“It’s only by saying “no” that you can concentrate on the things that are really important” – Steve Jobs

One of my biggest weaknesses in this life is being able to say “no” when someone needs me.  I struggle when I see any situation where I know I can be of help to not make time to help someone.  And I know the real reason it is hard for me is because I desperately want to help people because I love helping people.  Helping people is what makes me truly happy in life.  So if it makes me happy then why is it a problem?  It’s a problem because there are so many people out there who need help that if I try to be there for all of them I end up not being there for the very people that matter the most to me in my life – my own family.

Lately I have asked myself the question – Why is it that we are so quick to let our spouse and children down when they need our time, but we worry about letting total strangers or casual acquaintances down?  Is it because we know our spouse and children love us and will forgive us, and we are afraid others won’t?  I don’t know why we do it, but I fully admit that I have, plenty of times.  I admit that there have been many nights when I am late for dinner because I allowed a business call or email to feel like it had to be answered before I could leave work, totally overlooking the fact that I had to be on time for my family dinner.  But that is totally messed up!  And more and more I am realizing that if I don’t force it to change it will simply continue, because my spouse and children do love me and perhaps they will continue to forgive me when I am late…but the fact is that even if they forgive me, I won’t be able to forgive myself.  I am the one who is lucky to have every second they are part of my life to spend it with them.  I am the one who misses out every time I am late or not there for them.  Sure it hurts them if I am not there enough, but ultimately I am the one who is hurt the most because I had the ability to spend a moment with them and I wasn’t there…they are the blessing in my life…they are the gift and I am the one missing out on the gift if I don’t take advantage of it every second that I can.   So I cannot be dumb enough to take time with my family for granted.  I cannot be dumb enough to let anything else come before them. 

So then I had to ask myself – If I know I want them to be the highest priority in my life then how do I keep finding myself in situations where I am overcommitted and not as available as I need to be?  I have thought a ton about this question the last few days as I have tried to figure out why I am still struggling with work/life balance when the truth is that I no longer have to work??  I am finally to the point in my life where working is a choice, not a requirement, so it should be simple to walk out the door at night from the office and it should be simple to clear my calendar – RIGHT?  So what the heck is wrong with me if I still struggle to do it??  Well, here is what I am realizing:

It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if there is an open spot on the calendar then it must be free time to book another meeting –  WRONG!  Because 50% of what I need to get done in the day doesn’t get booked as an appointment.  So I made a list of the things that don’t get a calendar appt, but must be done during the day:

  • Reading Emails
  • Answering Emails
  • Going through the mail
  • Taking Phone Calls
  • Returning Phone Calls
  • Reviewing the materials for my upcoming meetings so I can be fully up to speed ahead of time so my meetings will be more effective
  • Having time to sit and meditate about the meetings I have had so I can determine which the best opportunities to spend focus on are.
  • Writing my daily Blog

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Making that list has led me to realize that I do not have 8 hours a day to setup meetings.  I have far less than that.  If I am realistic I will figure out the number of hours in my day that need to be reserved for the bullet list to get done.   For me that means at least four hours a day on average need to be blocked off just to do those bullet list items.  That leaves me less than four hours a day on average to schedule meetings and appointments. WOW!   What a huge revelation that is for me – here I literally allowed 8 hours to get booked with meetings leaving me no time at all for the rest of my work…no wonder I am working into the night each night.  Duh!

Next I realize that I have to learn to say “no” without feeling guilty or bad or like I am a horrible person.  That is hard for me.  It goes against my entire personality.  It frankly kills me to do.  And my anxiety over this one is HUGE!  I think being a woman makes it ten times harder because women are wired to take care of people and we feel guilt over pretty much everything!  But I have got to get to the point where I can simply say “no” and I need to get to the point where I can see someone needing help and be willing to not step in, which is the hardest one of all for me.  Even writing down the fact that I have to learn to do it is causing me major anxiety and guilt…arggghhh….but it has to happen. Because if it doesn’t happen then I will be hurting my family and myself and I can’t let that happen.  I need to force myself to recognize the fact that IT DOES HURT MY FAMILY if I take on too much.  And I have to recognize that when I take on too much I am choosing to hurt my family – CHOOSING – and I have to realize that it is a choice and I can’t blame it on anyone else, I can’t justify it with the excuse that “this other person needed me” because there are millions and millions of people that probably need us in the world and that we could help – but we made a commitment when we got married or had kids that we would let those people count more than the millions and millions of other people in the world.  Having a family means you make the unspoken promise to always put them first in your world.  So the choice of the priority has already been made and if we can stay mindful of that then we shouldn’t have to make so many day to day determinations on what comes first – OUR FAMILY DOES!  And we can’t feel guilty about it because putting them first is the RIGHT THING TO DO!  And I, more than any of you reading this blog, need to remember this!      Trust me, today’s blog is more for me than anyone else, but I am hoping if I share what I am realizing with you that someone else can avoid making the mistakes I have made.  Put your family first and don’t feel bad doing it!  Then help as many other people in the world as you can, whenever you can, as long as you never let them come at the cost of your own family.

Love you all – hope this is helpful…

~Amy

7 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    I find that I do the same thing. I will help a stranger, or a friend, or sibling more willingly than I will my own family. Probably from why you stated that they will forgive us. I have been trying to work on this latley also. I have found when I focus on the now instead of the past, or future; it helps me to realize how good things are now with my family. Thank you Amy for yor time. Have a great day.

  • Bradley says:

    Good for you Amy as your “Family” are truly the ones who would be there for you and love you even if you were penniless. Thanks for sharing this!!

  • Heather says:

    Thanks, Amy. I am retired now but spent my life, particularly the last decade of my career, “giving, and helping” other people. I went above and beyond. Likely, some of my “help” wasn’t even wanted. Fortunately, my husband and adult son are still very close to me but I wonder whether my adult son would communicate better with me today had I been home at a regular dinner hour instead of 8-9-10-11-12 o’clock! Thanks again, Amy.

  • Christina says:

    Incredible quest there. What happened after? Thanks!

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  • Kelvin Kombo Motuka says:

    Sure it is helpful. I have had difficulties saying no especially when it comes to strangers yet sometimes i can comfortably say no when it comes to family members.

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