Nancy Colier
Home / Blog

“I Don’t Want To” Is Enough Reason to Say No

I can remember the first time I did it. The “it” in this case was to say no to a dinner invitation I did not want to attend, but felt I should attend. But what made this no so momentous for me was the fact that it was also an event that I knew would be perfectly pleasant, and that I probably would be “happy” I’d “pushed through” and made myself go to.

How many times have you said those words to yourself: “You’ll be happy you went”? I’ve said them thousands of times to myself. And the truth is, in many cases, I was glad I pushed through and made myself do things and go places I didn’t want to. And, sometimes, something good came out of it.

But in the example I’m referring to here, “it” was the first time I said no even when I thought I would be glad I had pushed through and even when I thought I would probably have a nice time. I still said no, and once I got over the initial fear that I would end up a recluse and never leave the house again because I wouldn’t want to, I felt remarkably happy. I felt free, and real. The instant the door shut and my family headed out to the dinner party I’d given myself permission to miss out on, I not only came out of the molasses-like lethargy I’d felt all day, but I had the surprising urge to dance and sing, which is exactly what I did…with my dog Bucket.

It’s so hard for women to say no, to honor what we want and don’t want—just because it’s what we want or don’t want. We are constantly doing what we should do, because it makes us “good” mothers, partners, friends, humans, or just plain “good.” All of which is usually code for it makes someone else happy, satisfies what someone else wants, or prevents what someone else doesn’t want. So too, we say yes based on how our yes will affect other people’s perception of us and whether our yes will make us look better in their eyes or more likable.

But for a woman to say no, just because she doesn’t want to do something, with no grand and valid justification or apology, seems unnatural and feels wrong and undeserved. As in, who are we to get to do what we want, just because we want it. Who died and made us so special! Imagine something so unreasonable and selfish!

article continues after advertisement


When I opted out of that dinner invitation, there were umpteen reasons why going would have been the “right” choice, and yet I didn’t go. And in the end, everyone was fine with my choice even if a little bit disappointed (for about 3 minutes).

I, on the other hand, was even better than fine; I had dared to do what I wanted to do with my time and energy and I had done it for one reason, because I wanted to. It was the first time in my life that “because I want to” was a complete sentence.

It’s ok to say no just because you don’t want to do something. And furthermore, what I’ve learned (and finally given myself the grace to live) is that it’s ok to not do something you don’t want to do—even if you think you’ll be happy you did it. In hearing this, you may worry that if you follow this advice, you’ll end up living in a shoe with cats (no offense to cats or cat lovers here). I was one of those worriers, convinced that if I followed my real wants and don’t wants, I’d end up never going out or seeing anyone, and ultimately, having no life at all. I believed that having a life meant pushing through all resistance and, essentially, ignoring what I felt: my natural interests, desires, longings, as well as my health, exhaustion, fears, and everything else. Whatever was in the way of doing what I should do, oddly, to be happy, was experienced as an obstacle that had to be overcome. What I discovered, paradoxically, was that happiness came much easier when I stopped muscling and threatening myself into doing what I should do to make myself happy.

It’s ok not to use “push through” as your mantra in life. You can trust yourself. You can follow what you want and don’t want far more than you think and have been conditioned to believe you can. Most of the time, you don’t end up doing “nothing” or becoming a bad person as you feared; You don’t lay on the couch all day and eat bonbons or push people off ledges. Chances are, you’re someone who’s been running on a societal treadmill for a long time, pushing yourself into a good life, ignoring and pushing away your own desires.

What’s remarkable is this: When you give yourself permission to step off the should treadmill, your natural wanting rises up. You discover yourself doing things you actually want to do and seeing people you want to see, without all the effort, self-talk and convincing. What you do and who you see might be very different than what they were when should was in charge, but that’s okay too. You may not be the woman you were shoulding yourself into being. At the same time, you start to trust your natural instincts and trust that you can create a life that makes you happy, without force—a life that aligns with who you actually are. The best kept secret for women is that letting ourselves be who we are and following our own unique truth, is in fact the path to our real happiness and our, as Mary Oliver puts it, “one wild and precious life.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Latest Posts

Mailing List