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I'm Jist a Girl Who Cain't Say No

I’m jist a girl who cain’t say no.
I’m in a turrible fix.
I always say, “Come on, let’s go,”
Jist when I orta say nix.
-Ado Annie, Oklahoma

For the past two months, I haven’t had a chance to post because I got myself into quite a mess. Apparently, I have not mastered the word, “No.”

Teach an online class? Sure…
Take a few more piano students? Why not…
Do some volunteer chaplaincy work? I guess so…

And, then, I pipe up, “I want to start a ward playgroup.”
“I should get more involved in this non-profit…”

Add these commitments to the everyday Church and family obligations, and well, you have one stressed-out Emily. I felt like the Girl in a Whirl, but well, I wasn’t getting half of things done in that poem.

One morning in the midst of my mess, Annie’s song from the musical, Oklahoma, popped into my head. I laughed out loud, realizing the lyrics fit so well.

There was a time when I thought it was great to say, “yes” to everything. It meant I could handle whatever people needed me to handle. If there was a problem or an opportunity, well, count me in!

Now, I don’t think saying, “yes” is such a good thing. In fact, I think often I say, “yes” because I’m not brave enough to say, “no.”

I rationalize my inability to say, “no.” Some things sound fun or are great career/educational/spiritual opportunities. Other times, I feel like a task is my responsibility to do—even if no one else would think so.

Or, I don’t want to say, “no” because I’ll feel guilty, I’ll disappoint someone, I’ll miss out on something great.

Usually, I wait out the times I’m overcommitted. I get less sleep, I don’t see my husband much, and I find the time to fulfill what I’ve signed on to do. But, this was the first time I’ve gotten in too deep with kids. I yanked my toddler around the store as we bought ingredients to make cornbread for the ward chili cook-off (not just a plate of cornbread; cornbread for the whole ward—actually, that was DH’s inability to say, “no”), and I would ask my baby, completely exasperated, what his problem was—only to remember that I hadn’t nursed him for 4 hours.

So, a couple weeks ago, I did what I should have learned when I was about twenty. I cut out the stuff that didn’t have to be done.

And, yet, I still feel guilty…

Do you think saying, “yes” is a part of Mormon culture (particularly among Mormon women)? Have you learned how to say no?

*Overwhelmed, artquilt by Cynthia St. Charles


EmilyCC lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She currently serves as a stake Just Serve specialists, and she recently returned to school to become a nurse. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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No Responses

  1. stacer says:

    I think it’s pretty prevalent in the Church because there are also so many people who can’t/won’t say yes. So that leaves all the people who do say yes sometimes overburdened in committing to do everything. Not to mention that there are just so many good things to choose from sometimes!

    A really, really amazing book on the subject is Chieko Okazaki’s Lighten Up!, in which she basically gives Mormon women the okay to say no. It’s mostly about prioritizing, but also about overscheduling. I haven’t read it in a while, which makes me want to go back and read it again.

  2. a spectator says:

    I’ll one-up you on not saying “no”:

    I volunteer for things no one else would ever consider asking me to do!


    I do think it is part of a culture of “pleasing” and “going along” sometimes, other times it can be our own interest in a new endeavour or even our pride at wanting to be a dependable and go-to person.

    I am getting better (I hope) at understanding the demands of activities and, more importantly, not letting my activities negatively impact my family. That is, I think, someone everyone has to learn for themselves.

    [I think women get sucked into this in part because we do not value our time and we allow others to not value our time. When I am a SAHM, it does NOT mean it is easy for me to cater zone conference for the missionaries single-handedly! My schedule is flexible, yes, but not wide open!]

  3. jana says:

    I once spoke with a counselor about taking on too many things. He listened to me whine for a long time and them asked me why I’d said yes to so many responsibilities…

    I came out of our talk realizing that it’s just my nature. I don’t think it’s particularly Mormon, but it has to do with my own zeal for life and my knowing that I can juggle lots of stuff and still manage my time fairly well.

    So more than anything, I came out of that counseling session truly ‘owning’ my own choices–knowing that I’d made the choices myself (I hadn’t been coerced or forced into them) and that with those choices would come a certain level of stress. But the ownership of the choices meant that I was doing much less whining and was getting more done–because I could see that the choices were mine and I had responsibility for them.

    It’s different, IMO, when we are forced into taking on too much. Then we are overwhelmed and we feel we’ve lost control of our lives. That is when we need to learn how to say ‘no.’ Or when we need to accept that store-bought cornbread is just as good as homemade (sometimes even better)…

  4. Naismith says:

    I don’t know that it is Mormon. I’ve had some role models who stressed the importance of saying no, and (more importantly) really following through when saying yes.

    But those were outisde Utah, so it migh well be a Utah Mormon thing.

    Also, there was a talk by Sheri Dew in which she was complaining to a friend about being overwhelmed, and he reminded her that she thrived in that kind of situation.

  5. M&M says:

    I love this post. I agree with Jana that it’s not really a Mormon thing, it’s a personality thing. I also love what she said about owning our choices. I also think that some of it is human nature — we want to be busy and successful and sometimes we define success by how busy or involved we are. Or at least I should say that I have done that. 🙂 All too often.

    I’m a people-pleaser by nature, and I have usually thrived on stress. Once the chronic illness hit (likely in part from doing too much for too long), I have slowly had to learn boundaries. The book by the name really helped me understand that.

  6. EmilyCC says:

    Stacer, I do love Chieko’s books, but Lighten Up isn’t one I’ve read. I’ll have to get it.

    A spectator, I think I got into my current mess because as a SAHM, I don’t get a lot of praise or thank you’s from my kids (who are under 3). Part of me just really wanted to be appreciated.

    Jana, naismith and m&m, I think you’re right–I don’t think it’s just a Mormon thing. I guess I initially wondered about that because most of the people I know who will admit to getting themselves into such predicaments are Mormon women.

    Thanks for your comments. It’s helpful to see how others have learned to deal with this.

  7. Caroline says:

    ok, I just wrote a huge comment and there was an error and now it’s gone. I’m annoyed.

    Anyway, I was saying that I rarely say no when I’m directly asked, but when there is a generalized plea for 4 people to go to the cannery, that’s another story.

    I actually would like to contribute more than I do now as the humanitarian director. (I LOVE that calling.) And I think part of that desire is strategic. The people in my ward know that I am a feminist and a liberal, and I think I gain more credibility by being very active.

    It might be easy to write of the feminist who never contributes, but when I am in their faces every Sunday doing my calling and doing whatever else, I think it makes them back off and scratch their heads a little.

    That said, I absolutely think that it is appropriate to say NO when things are becoming too overwhelming.

  8. Ana says:

    Just have to pipe up and say that saying yes and then stretching to meet your obligations is not always bad. If we didn’t try anything hard, how would we ever grow, right?

    But, like everybody else, I am trying right now to figure out how to do things better, and I think doing less (“mothers who know do less!”) might be part of the answer.

  9. Vada says:

    I learned this lesson my first semester in college. I got really involved in our singles’ ward, and did WAY too much. Mostly it was because I enjoyed the activities, and enjoyed the people, and enjoyed the responsibilities. No one really forced me into it, but I realized at the end of the semester that I had taken on WAY too much, and the next semester I cut back a lot. And that semester I still went to church every week, did my VT (without a companion, and without a car), took two institute classes, had two callings, and went to an activity every couple of weeks. Which just tells you that I was insane the first semester. But it made me realize that I can’t do everything, and I need to prioritize, and, maybe most importantly, take some time for myself.

    I don’t think Mormon women are the only ones with this problem by any means, but I do think it is particularly prevalent among them. After I learned that it’s okay to say no and to take some time to keep yourself sane, I found myself talking to many of my friends and the girls in my ward about it. I would tell them it was okay to say no sometimes, and that it was okay if they needed some time to do things just for themselves, because how can you take care of others if you never take care of yourself? They were all so grateful that someone “gave them permission” to take time for themselves — I think it’s something that Mormon girls are not taught very well.

  10. Janna says:

    As it pertains to church things…

    I think it is important not to underestimate the power that a certain covenant in the temple has on our psyches when it comes to saying no and the consequences. Essentially, saying no is equivalent to not sustaining/building the “kingdom of God.” I am sure that covenant and other church rhetoric around such things has influenced my willingness to say yes to things that I’d rather not do.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but essentially, if you say no, you just might go to hell.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Another good read is from Anne Morrow Lindbergh– Gift from the Sea. She went on a solitary retreat to a beach house because Life, the Universe and Everything overwhelmed her soul. Her book delves into the meaning of being a wife, mother, but most importantly a woman. You cannot fill others if your pitcher is empty…

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