Master the Art of Standing Up for Yourself

Learn to say no and be comfortable about it

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If something is not a “hell, yeah!”, then it’s a “no!” ― James Altucher

I had to turn 40 to fully understand what hell yeah stands for. Some days I feel I’m awfully late and I should have learned it when I was a starry-eyed twenty-something to save myself from all the troubles of enduring bad dates, horrible bosses, and awkward situations. But sometimes it is liberating, that no matter how long it took, I am here.

I might have needed this long, but I managed to get it together and understand the difference between what is good for me and what is not, what I will put up with and what is unacceptable. All these years not only taught me the concept but gave me real-life examples that loom over me, reminding me of my vow I had made to myself:

I will only say yes to things that are worth saying yes to.

But it takes practice to know what you really want, to draw the line when it seems a bit blurry, and to say no loud enough that it won’t be mistaken for a maybe. It also takes practice to say yes.

Eventually, it all boils down to authenticity.

Your authentic self is defined by the things you allow and the things you reject. It’s about your choices, your chosen attitude, your crowd, your views, your opinion, your words. They are all carving out space for you — outlining you and setting you apart.

It is about duality.

Saying yes doesn’t mean a thing if you never say no. If you go with the herd, you won’t ever find your way. If you agree with everything, there is nothing to remember about you. Your opinions and views mean very little if there is nothing to disagree with.

You must learn to say no to things that you don’t want. But for that, you need to know what it is that you don’t want. What are the things that you do out of obligation or because it’s expected, or because you think you should? When you don’t say no, you are taking on inauthentic things that will take time, energy, and space from all the things that would serve to express you and help you grow.

“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” — Josh Billings

You don’t say no because you want to do it, then realize that it’s not your thing and you’re afraid to seem stupid.

You don’t say no because you are so used to saying yes that it comes naturally.

You don’t say no because you have no idea what you want, so saying yes is just as good as anything else.

You don’t say no because you don’t want to seem rude.

These are all valid excuses, but they are excuses. The best way to define what to say no to is to define what you need to say yes to.

How to know what to pursue?

You need to learn to say yes to things that check all three boxes on this list:

  • you want to do it
  • you can afford it, meaning you have the time, money, or energy for it
  • and it has a positive effect on you, as it makes you feel good and helps you grow.

If one or more is missing, believe me, then it falls in the categories of yeses driven by missing boundaries, habit, or pure fear.

And this is how you get to be more authentic. Counteracting the root causes of your usual yeses will lead you to better nos and more appropriate yeses.

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

Make sure you have clear boundaries

Every yes you say shapes you, every no you say shapes you. You are what you choose to be. You are what you decide to show. You need to teach others how to treat you by defining the lines. You need to be consistent, you need to be strict, you need to make yourself a priority. You can’t be all over the place and please everyone. You can’t make choices that will make everyone happy.

Know what you stand for and stick to it — be kind, be gentle, but don’t let others define you. Find your hell yes feeling and remind yourself of it if in doubt. If it’s anything less than that, it will probably end up being a burden, you will regret it, and it will drain you more than completing you.

Make a habit of choosing yourself

You can’t expect people to make you a priority if you continually choose others instead of you. You need to follow your dreams; you are responsible for your time and your happiness. Practice choosing yourself by saying no to things that don’t evoke hell yes, don’t spark joy, or don’t make you feel better about yourself.

Start small and say no to people where you don’t need to worry about losing them: kids, family, friends. Say no to helping your kids getting dressed, say no to your mom coming over without prior notice, say no to your friends by not drinking alcohol on a typical Friday night.

Learn how to say it authentically without being rude and aggressive. Expand your nos gradually to other territories: your spouse, your colleagues, your boss. Make sure you’re comfortable with your choice and don’t start explaining it. Your no is your business, you don’t owe an explanation or an apology for it.

Make peace with fear

Fear is natural. Being brave means doing something despite being afraid of it. Often, choosing ourselves seems daunting — for fear of being rejected for who we are, for making fools of ourselves, for going against the flow, for not pleasing everyone. Choosing your authentic self is dangerous. Standing up for yourself is scary. Do it anyway.

Fear will show you the way more than anything else. If your choice scares you — in addition to screaming hell yes inside — it will be the path that leads you to the best destinations through a journey of self-reflection and growth. Choose the path that scares you, and embrace your fear. Let it guide you and make you become your best possible self.

Saying no is not a luxury. It is a must. So practice it, say it loud, say it often, and be happy about all of the nos allowing you to have lots of hell yeses.

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Writer. Dreamer. Hopeless romantic. Newsletter: Email me: zitafontaine (at) gmail

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