Day 2: Affirmative Action

Authors Note:  This is the second entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

For the record, “affirmative action” in this instance does not have anything to do with the executive order designed to address considerable social justice issues in our society.  In this case “affirmative” simply means “agreeable”, or more simply put, “yes”.

Take the second entry on the list from the Huffington Post Women:

2. Saying “yes” to everyone else. Yes, I will meet you for coffee even though I’m exhausted and just want to go home and  crawl into bed. Yes, I will edit your resume even though I’m swamped with my own work. Yes, I will go on a double date with you, your almost-boyfriend and his awful friend who’s in town. Stop saying “yes” when you don’t truly mean it. People actually respect you more when you set boundaries.

As women, we continually look for ways – knowingly or unknowingly – to be cooperative, agreeable and helpful.  Again – much like I said yesterday – this is something that we are socialized to do at a young age.  When young girls play, they are encouraged to play together, seek out cooperation, and keep the peace in stressful situations.  Boys on the other hand are taught to be competitive, to stand up for themselves, and as a result, grow to believe that their opinions, thoughts, ideas and decisions are valuable and worth defending.  So – when men say no – they are generally comfortable with that notion, as is the rest of society.  However, when a woman doesn’t agree to a project, task, date, or something else – they are generally viewed as uncooperative, selfish or unkind.

I cannot tell you how many times I have said “yes” to something I really didn’t want to do.  From taking on additional projects at work, to accepting leadership roles in volunteer organizations, or simply giving up a weekend to attend some type of event when I am completely exhausted – the word “yes” just flies out of my mouth even as my brain and body are screaming at me to stop.  About five years ago – this self-abuse (which is truly what overcommitting and overextending yourself amounts to) resulted in my body literally revolting against me.  I had an anxiety attack, but I didn’t know that’s what it was.  However, when the emergency room doctor came in after my exam and asked, “Would you like a Valium?”, I knew something was wrong.

I needed to understand how things had come to this point, and with the help of a tremendous support network of friends, family and colleagues, discovered that my relentless agreeability had pushed me to a point of damaging my physical health.  With further assistance and reflection, I realized I was agreeing to things because (a) I didn’t want to let others down and (b) I was afraid of missing out on some unknown or imaginary important thing.  What I was really missing out on was a fulfilling life that brought me joy and satisfaction. My friends and family would not want me to do something that would hurt me, so why would I willingly do that to myself?

So take a minute, take stock in what you are doing, and what you truly want to do.  Own that you have control over your decisions, and please – PLEASE – learn that “no” is not a dirty, evil or horrible word.  “No” is empowering, and can provide you the space to do all the things that bring you joy and satisfaction. After all, who wouldn’t want to choose joy!

(On another note, there’s a habit associated with saying “yes” that women also need to break, and that’s the constant need to either nod our heads in agreement during a conversation, or saying “yes”, “right”, “you bet” during a discussion.  While you may intend to be affirming, others mistake this action/these words with you agreeing with their perspective.  This undermines you and your opinion. In the wise words of Dr. Lynn Gangone (@LynnMGangone), Dean of Colorado Women’s College at the University of Denver, “Stop it!”  You are not a bobblehead, and you certainly don’t agree with everything you hear.  Keep your head still and save your affirmations for times when you agree with what is being said.)

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6 thoughts on “Day 2: Affirmative Action

  1. Dr. JPK,
    I never imagined that this post would be so relevant to me. To be honest, when I initially reviewed the list, this was the one that I thought applied to “other people” and I didn’t see myself. However, after reading your Day 2 post, it hit me like a rock. I have said yes so many times to the detriment of me and things in my life that I didn’t even recognize it. I am eager to read the upcoming posts as I have a feeling that I will find more of myself in them. Here’s to taking my first steps towards choosing joy!

  2. A lesson I learned a long time ago – When you say ‘yes’ there is always something that you are saying ‘no’ to. Make sure you are saying ‘yes’ to things you truly want to do – and examine what you are sacrificing in the process…

    • Absolutely! Each choice is a trade – but the more we say ‘yes’ to things that we truly believe in and are passionate about – the more fulfilled we will be overall. Thanks for the addition perspective!

  3. Pingback: Day 22: Obligation or Opportunity? | The Feminist Lattice

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