What is it that makes “no” such a difficult response, especially for women? We’re afraid that if we say “no,” we aren’t being the nice girls our moms taught us to be. It’s as if our lips are unable to form the word without adding justification:

“No, I can’t chair that committee again, I’ve got to babysit for my grandkids three times a week.”

“No, I can’t cook Easter dinner again this year, I’ve got too much else to do.”

“No, I can’t take you to the doctor this week, I am behind on everything at work.”

All those reasons, justifications, excuses? They leave the door open for debate, for argument, for cajoling responses meant to change your mind such as:

“It’s not going to take much time, I promise.”

Here’s the thing. It’s entirely possible to say “no” and stop there, because “no” is a complete sentence that needs no reason behind it.


See what I mean?

“No.” A hard stop after the word will often end the discussion.

But let’s say it doesn’t. Let’s say the response is “Why not?” Here’s another stopper:

“I can’t this time. Maybe another time.”

And if the person persists, remove them from your life. Just kidding! If the person persists, simply change the subject.

Back in the day, we were told we could do it all. We were superwomen! We could raise children, work full time, put a hot meal on the table and sizzle in the bedroom. It was also oh-so-important for us to be “nice girls” and make everyone happy.

Well, I’ve got news for us.

We were never Superwomen and we could never do it all. Something had to give – and, if we were being honest, did. Our lives were sometimes too busy to do justice to everything. Whether we saw it or not, some things fell through the cracks.

Now that we’re past midlife, there’s a tendency to think that we should fill every moment, especially if we’re retired. After all, we’ve got plenty of time on our hands, right?

In this second half of life we’ve earned the right to sit back and read a book if we like. To ponder the roses in our garden. To learn to weave. To have lunch with a beloved friend. To walk our dogs at leisure. We’ve earned our spare time, whether it’s every day or just a few hours a week.

This is the first time in many of our lives that we don’t have so many responsibilities we’re frazzled. Still, it’s easy to revert back to old habits and fill every minute with…something. And often, the people around us think we should, too.

When we’re tempted to take on more than we want to, it’s wise to remember this:

Being “nice” means also being nice to ourselves. Taking care of our own needs.

“No” is a complete sentence. And we owe no one justification for it.

Carol Cassara is a writer and ordained minister who believes in living fully in every color of the rainbow. Her essays have appeared in Skirt! magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, several Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, on public radio and other venues. After a long career as a corporate communications executive, she is enjoying having more time to write, travel and just enjoy life. When she's not traveling the world, she lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and crazy little maltipoo. Her daily blog inspirations for creating our best lives can be found at www.carolcassara.com.