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  • kris ng

No Actually

Recently, I volunteered to work on a part of a project. I chose it because I wanted to contribute and do so in a way I felt would be exciting and fun. Less than a week later, a colleague presented me with a well-founded case for taking on another part of the project which I did not put my hand up for. Because the reason was valid, it felt obligatory and the right thing to do. Without hesitation, I reacted to the text message with an “ok” emoji and gave no further thought to it. Then, as conversations started in earnest about what the project entailed and the first deadlines posted, I started to feel out of sorts. I put it down to Jade being deep in the throes of Influenza B, its effects making her the sickest she had ever been which threw me for a loop. 

The deadline came and passed and I felt bad for having nothing to say or show. I thought about going back on my word and changing my mind about what I okayed. Then I chastised myself for even harbouring the thought of breaking a promise, however casual the way it came about. 

RyanKing999, Unsplash

In the same breath, I was egging myself on to commit to a new deadline in order to hold myself to the agreement. But somehow, something inside me said “stop”, “just wait”. Wasn’t rushing to reply what got me into this very predicament in the first place? So I pushed past the conflicting voices in my head and turned to reading for some distraction. 

It was Mark Nepo’s “The Book of Awakening” (2020, Red Wheel), arranged in the format of a daybook. I flipped to a random page and landed on the entry <Responsibility>.

OOF. But definitely a tad loaded for my dilemma?

I picked up my phone, hoping for a deflection that was more light hearted, only to see this at the top of my Instagram feed:

So apt was this explanation if I were to renege on the agreement, that it seemed the universe was conspiring to tell me something. 

I found and read the full article “The Mind-Boggling Simplicity of Learning to Say ‘No’”(Jamison, 28 Feb 2024, The NYT). In the aftermath of collapsing in a movie theatre out of exhaustion, a burst ovarian cyst and an undiagnosed infection, the author started a “Notebook of Noes” to chronicle opportunities she declined AND what saying no made room for. 

The next day, Rob, who is studying for a master’s degree, updated me on his program schedule. In the following months, he would have to start practicum and clinical supervision hours. His classes would also be over the weekends.

Knowing full well these hours would be on top of the reading, researching and writing he was already investing much time and energy on, I felt my anxiety rising. The imminence of how much I would need to take on on the parenting front overwhelmed me. He assured me he would still pull his weight but I still went to bed jittery. 

By morning, it dawned on me – I only had room for one aspect of the project, not both. It was remarkable how once I got the clarity, I knew exactly what I needed to do. What proved to be the real challenge was WAITING. Waiting to see what unfolds. Waiting for the answers to be revealed to me. 

* * *

This is not a crusade for saying no. I am well aware of how saying yes could lead to something wonderful too. In fact, I count myself fortunate to have gone on journeys that turned out to be blessings when I threw myself in at the deep end. 

For now, and I don’t know how long “now” is, I choose to spotlight the things saying no make room for – time. Unhurried time for myself and the people I cherish. Time to spend on activities that are not necessarily "productive" or profitable. 

I only need to remember my Dad to not forget that I don’t need a crisis to happen to trigger a life reset.


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