This article by Maliheh Paryavi Ph.D. originally appeared on malihehparyavi.com.
Many changemakers I know are incredibly passionate, giving, generous, and selfless. They go above and beyond to help others, and sometimes to the detriment of their physical and mental health. There is nothing wrong with being a giver, but if it is costing your mental or physical health, it is costing you too much.
That is why I want to provide a quick guide to help you stay mindful of how you are devoting your time, energy, and creating the change you wish to see in the world.
I used to really struggle with this myself. I used to believe that if an opportunity comes across my path to give and serve, it must be meant for me to take on. I couldn’t stand letting people down and I really struggled with saying “No.” I kept pushing and overextending myself until my body forced me to face the reality that I’m not superhuman and that I need to learn to give to myself too!
It took a while for me to learn to give to myself without feeling guilty and every time I struggled to say “No,” I reminded myself that “I’m not saying ‘NO’ to them, I’m saying ‘YES’ to me!” (I learned this little nugget at a yoga retreat 10 years ago and it has been life-changing!)
You’ve got to be self-compassionate and remember that you are enough and you matter. You are not here to just serve and give and give. You deserve to give to yourself and serve in a way that brings you joy.
With that said, let’s get to the four questions you need to ask yourself when you are considering taking on a new project. Assuming that you have the luxury of choice and already know you would provide value, ask yourself the following questions to make sure that the project is right for you:
- Do I have the time? This would normally be a no-brainer, but just so we are clear for all the lovely selfless givers here, the answer would only be “YES” if it will not cost you time away from your sleep, exercise, rest, self-care, loved ones, regular work activities, and other responsibilities and priorities. Otherwise, the answer is “NO.”
- Do I have the mental space? Sometimes even if you have the time in terms of basic clock hours, you may be going through phases of personal and/or professional growth and transition, which could be taking up a lot of mental space. Please honor where you are in your life. If you feel that you don’t have the mental space and the prospect of adding this project to your life right now feels heavy and overwhelming, the answer is “NO.”
- Is this project aligned with my values and the change I want to create in the world? You need to be mindful of how to use your time and mental space, and channel your valuable resources towards projects that help you make the impact you want to make. Even if you have the time and mental space, if the project and/or the individuals involved in the project don’t share your values and are not aligned with your passion and purpose, then the answer is a very clear “NO.”
- Will it energize me? Some projects, no matter how amazing they sound, may drain the life out of you and make you feel a sense of dread, while others inspire your creativity to flow and you feel excited and energized just thinking about it. Trust that. Visualize how it will feel to be working on this project. If the project and/or the people involved with it drain your energy and you don’t feel like you will be making a sufficient impact, then the answer is “NO.” Projects are not always smooth sailing and there will certainly be challenges along the way, but you definitely need to feel energized about it going in. Sign up for projects that also give back to you!
If the answer to any of the above questions is a “No”, you’ve got your answer: NO, this project is NOT right for you as it is.
If you are super passionate about the project, get curious and creative and see if there is room for negotiation. If it is possible to make the project more efficient, aligned, impactful, and energizing so you can get to “YES” on all of the above questions, and the negotiation process would not take up unnecessary time, mental space, and energy, then it could be worth exploring and negotiating. If not, then the answer is “NO” and this project is NOT right for you.
I know saying “NO” can feel uncomfortable sometimes, but if you really think about it, you can’t give an authentic “YES”, without being able to say “NO”. Also, if you don’t say “NO” when you are supposed to, you’ll run the risk of overloading yourself and derailing your existing projects, commitments, and priorities. And remember, you can still be kind and compassionate in your delivery of “NO”, while being firm in your resolve to uphold your values and set boundaries to protect your time, mental space, and energy.
If you answered an enthusiastic “YES” to ALL of the above questions (either initially or after a brief negotiation), then it is a clear sign that you’ve likely got yourself a new project to dive into. However, even if you answered “YES” to all of the above, if something (or someone) about the project still doesn’t FEEL right to you, this is important data and it is worth taking a pause and meditating on it a bit more. Trust yourself and your inner knowing. Life decisions are not just about mental analysis, but our hearts, bodies, and souls too. Check in with all of you. If your mind, heart, body, and soul all come together to say “YES”, then go for it and enjoy the journey!
Ultimately, please remember that YOU MATTER and with every “Yes” and “No”, you are building and designing your life. You’ve got to value yourself enough to be intentional about creating a life that truly honors you, your values, your health, and your wellbeing.
I hope you found these reminders helpful and that energizing “YES” projects continue to find their way to you — it all starts with saying “YES” to you!
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