When Yes for Me is No for You
Like many other brown girls growing up in a beige world, code-switching was my second “foreign language” – the skill of communicating in a less than natural way to win approval and get what I need. Sure, there was no official class, but I definitely learned it at school. At home, I was my full self. Walking out of my parents’ house transformed me into a silhouette of my likeness. Passing through the doorway, I put on an invisible “yes” cloak. Some may know it as Strong Black Woman or I-can-do-it-all, but this cloak has many, many defects. No matter the request and no matter the cost, I always said yes. It’s funny how survival techniques of childhood, while they propel one’s education and career, are the very things that can damage one’s health and relationships.
It took a health crisis for me to realize that saying ‘yes’ to everyone else, inevitably meant saying ‘no’ to what I needed to survive.
It’s self-love, not selfish.
Once upon a season in my career, it was typical for me to finish work anytime between 10 pm and 2 am. Work ethic, am I right? Even though my friends would forward articles about insufficient sleep shortening my lifespan, I rarely powered down. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” I often joked. I brought my laptop to family functions so I could “show up” even if I wasn’t really present. My side hustle projects were reserved for candlelight because I truly believed I was more productive and creative then (fact check: there is hormonal research to prove this isn’t true – it’s adrenaline). I made time for everyone and everything I loved. Until one day my health tanked and I physically couldn’t do any of it. My body was healing so I could barely keep my eyes open for more than an hour at a time. Safe to say, I couldn’t work, couldn’t dance, couldn’t cook, couldn’t babysit, couldn’t even listen to a book on tape. It took weeks of being immobile to realize that prioritizing my body, my mind, and my soul wasn’t selfish, it was self-love. If I didn’t say yes to what my body needed, I may not have one to take care of for the long haul. I cried. A lot. I prayed. I slept. And then I started to become okay with loving myself first. Saying yes to my needs. Saying yes to rest and no to a dear friend’s birthday party. Saying yes to a night in and saying no to my auntie’s cookout. Saying yes to working out and saying no to an extra project at work that would require nights and weekends.
Turns out, saying yes for me was a win for everyone. I was a happier, healthier version of myself. “You’re glowing” people would exclaim. When I showed up, I was 100% present, unlike before.
Compromise, for what?
All of this self-love revealed so many things. The people who truly loved me, didn’t leave. New dudes applying to be the one (or even the one for the weekend), well, I was honest my priorities up front. They needed to earn their way onto my priority list. As Eartha Kitt declared, “A man comes into my life and I have to compromise! For what?” I now understand her deep belly laugh in this infamous clip. As I approached dating with this new mindset, I realized I had been compromising my truth and my needs because of my stupid cloak. I said yes because I didn’t want to let someone down. Yes, because I don’t want to hurt feelings. Yes, you messed up, I’ll fix it. Nah son, no more. In my new approach to life, no more cloak, no more guilt-induced yeses, no more compromising my truth and my values. The answer is no.
As hard as it is sometimes to say no to “you”, it is infinitely more liberating to say yes to me. Just try it, you’ll see.