For many of us improvisers, variations of “yes” or “hell yes” or “yasss bitch, please!” are phrases we find ourselves using on the daily. Boy do we love to say “yes” to things. Usually it's what makes life a little more exciting, leads us on new adventures, or sparks a new creative endeavor. But, if you have people-pleasing tendencies like me, then you might find yourself saying "yes" to almost anything (within in reason, of course, cause I’m not about to “yes” trying crystal meth or licking peanut butter off a hobo’s foot...dat yucky...also it could be argued here that one probably leads to the other...anyway) and everything. And I mean ALMOST EVERYTHING!
Example: "Lauren, wanna go on a coffee run with me this afternoon?"
“Lauren, can you get that 10-page report to me by this afternoon?”
“Lauren, I made reservations for lunch at this new Korean BBQ place this afternoon. You’re coming, right?"
"Lauren, you still on for the Hall & Oats flash mob this afternoon?"
“Lauren, I’m throwing a birthday party for my dog this afternoon. Can you make it?"
“Lauren, wanna try crystal meth and then go lick peanut butter off a hobo’s foot?”
“No, dat yucky!”
"Lauren, you want to go to this new workout class this afternoon that will totally make your butt cramp for a week but is totally worth it because Beyoncé swears by its results?”
Next thing I know I’m drowning in a sea of "yes" and I’m overbooked, overcommitted, and completely overwhelmed. After checking your schedule, if you too find yourself saying to people, “I’ll be free three weeks from next Thursday after a work dinner but before I have my back-to-back improv shows,” then you might be saying “yes” to certain things a little too much (or maybe you just like filling up your time and you’re a naturally productive, industrious human, in which case kudos my friend, we need to talk later, cause I want to know your secret to getting it all done).
If you're at all like me, then sometimes saying “no” can be a bit of a struggle. As improvisers, we’re programmed to “yes, and...” the shit out of life and whatever’s thrown our way, but at a certain point our continuous chain of “yes”-ing things only leads us to an overly cluttered calendar and a to-do list that could wrap around the circumference of the Earth. This can become problematic, because it leaves less time to focus on the things we’re truly passionate about and causes us to often half-ass the things we’ve now committed to. As the all wise Ron Swanson would advise, it’s far better to commit to one thing and whole-ass it, than commit to a bunch of stuff and only put a fraction of your ass into the work.
But why are we so hesitant to just say “no” or “no thanks” or “nah, bro, I’m busy as f*** right now”? Speaking for myself, I'm often reluctant to turn down invitations to do things out of fear of hurting other peoples' feelings and a deep desire to avoid confrontation. This is because I can be a bit of a pushover and passive, and well, thanks to social anxiety and a Jewish upbringing, somewhat of a neurotic mess at times who is very easily guilted (no one knows how to lay on the guilt like a Jewish grandma) into doing things.
There’s also this idea of FOMO. I don’t know if you know FOMO, but let’s just say, between you and me, FOMO is a real asshole. The fear of missing out (FOMO) often goads us into committing to a billion different things at once, because it fakes us into thinking that something super exciting or interesting is going to happen without us being present. This, in turn, causes some of us to engage in completely logical (can you hear the sarcasm) self-pity sessions and feelings of loserness and alienation. Like I said, FOMO is a real asshole.
But when saying “yes” leads to burnout and your creative energy reserves have officially run dry, it’s perfectly OK to start saying “no.” Don’t feel guilty. People get it. They’re not going to be mad if you can’t commit to something (read that again and again, Lauren, and make it your life mantra). Obviously, you don’t have to be a jerk about things, and you can say “no” in a polite and sincere manner. People (if they’re rational and not assholes like FOMO...FOMO is such an asshole) will respect and support your decision to decline an invitation.
“No” is not always a dirty word or a bad word or a word used for summoning up the demons of bad improv choices, but instead, it can be used as a powerful tool for keeping us from becoming beleaguered and worn down by over-commitment. This means saying “yes” only to the things that really matter, that bring you joy, or inspire you. Saying “no” to the things that you are uncomfortable with, feel less passionate about, or you are simply uninterested in, will help you better manage your time and keep those creative juices from running low (wow, if I only I would listen to myself from time to time).
Now go be you, you beautiful human reading this blog post, and let yourself say “no,” if you want to that is...it’s your life, boo.
Lauren Levine is a DCH graduate and a Sketch 3 student. When she is not trying to come up with witty things for this blog, she is a freelance writer and editor, an amateur photographer, a Zumba-enthusiast, a dog lover, and an 80s movie nerd. In addition, she enjoys all things Muppet-related, the smell after a rainstorm, and people with soft hands.