It started with a royal interview, of all things. Meghan Markle, holding back tears, quietly telling a reporter that yes, she was surviving the rollercoaster ride of public life but she wasn’t happy. “It’s not enough just to survive something,” she said earnestly. “That’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive.”
Apart from a fondness for handsome redheads, I have little in common with the actress-turned-duchess. And yet, her words kept ringing in my ears. They would echo especially loudly whenever I felt overwhelmed after a long day at work, and my lunch break or workout or family time had been bumped, again, to the bottom of the to-do list. So, when a few months later the couple said a polite but firm “no, thank you” to their job as senior royals, I fist-pumped the air. In one brave move, they gave all of us permission to decline, even in the face of overwhelming pressure to keep showing up.
Megxit was a watershed moment, not just for the royal family, but for women everywhere. Listen closely, on social media or your favourite podcast and you’ll hear murmurings of the same idea – that throwing the word ‘yes’ around like confetti no longer serves us. We joke about JOMO (the joy of missing out). We talk about boundaries. We’re realising that doing it all comes at a cost (which has become even clearer for many of us now as we’re forced to spend more time at home). “It’s quite a new phenomenon for women’s needs to be recognised, and we’ve become entrenched in a culture of ‘busy’,” says psychologist Jocelyn Brewer of why saying no suddenly feels so right. “We still only have 24 hours in the day, so we’re maxing out our capacity to take on more.”
Part of what got us here is that we’re wired to please, says Sarah Knight, author of the appropriately titled selfhelp tome F**k No! (Quercus, $29.99). “I think women have a harder time saying no than men do – in part because we’re socialised from a young age to serve, to smooth things over, to help people, and to be gentle about it. Because of this cultural conditioning, saying no can feel ‘wrong’ and subversive,” she explains.
Helping others is a lovely aspect of human nature – and one we’ve celebrated in the wake of 2020’s devastating bushfires and Coronavirus pandemic – but as Knight points out, when we’re giving all the time, something’s gotta give. “Overcommitting to anything – be it work, events, doing favours, spending money – is draining. It leaves you overtired, overextended, and overdrawn. If you’re being pulled in a million directions, you won’t be showing up to any of those tasks as your best self.”
On the flip side, she argues, adding a few well-chosen nopes into the mix is good for you and also for those around you. “It ensures we can be less stressed and more energetic, happy and available to those we love.”
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