Personal Journey

No.

By Cynthia Maldonado on May 27, 2024

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No written on a white sticky note sits on a keyboard.

While scrolling through THREADS on Instagram a while back, I came upon a post that caught my attention. It asked people to share things they have heard that have changed their brain chemistry. 

I have always believed in the power of words. It amazes me how hearing or reading the right thing at the right time has the ability to take us outside of ourselves. Those moments where a song lyric, an op-ed, the perfectly delivered line in a film, or well-timed advice can act as the catalyst for looking inward. Coming across words that resonate so deeply that they reveal incorrect or limiting beliefs you may be operating from feels transcendental. They create the space to change your perspective and pave the way for making conscious changes in habits and behaviours.

I consider myself lucky to have experienced this several times. One of these times was hearing someone say, “No is a full sentence.”

It sounded simple, but the takeaway was profound.

I was raised by immigrant parents who moved us to Canada when I was very young. Despite my dad’s extensive education and having left an established career, the opportunities were scarce, and the thought of saying no to any job that could put food on the table was foreign. At times, this meant working three jobs while my mom took care of three little ones at home. I am lucky to have witnessed the embodiment of hard work and resilience in both of my parents. They raised us all to believe that no job is ever beneath us and taught us the importance of taking pride in any and everything that we do. I am eternally grateful to them for these lessons and take pride in my work ethic.

That being said, this has led to several situations in my life where I gave too much of myself to a job/company or stayed despite being deeply unhappy. Until recent years, the thought of quitting a job seemed so overwhelming to me. I deeply felt a misplaced obligation to people and places that did not reciprocate. While it is true that having a great work ethic will get you ahead, it is also true that many employers will take advantage of this. Are you willing to do the work of two people without complaining? Here is some more work as a reward.

I have always been deeply aware of how privileged I truly am and how much easier my life has been as a result of my parents’ sacrifices. Saying no to things at work or turning down an opportunity that I am lucky to have almost felt like a slap in the face to the hardships they had endured. 

There is one important thing I hadn’t considered. The sacrifices they made were so that their children could live a better life in all ways. Saying no in the workplace or any employment is a luxury they did not have. Because of them, it is a right that I do have. They did not leave their country, their friends, and their families for me to live the same life they did. They did it so that I could live the best life possible. Part of that is knowing when to say no to situations, people, and places that are not serving my highest good.

Another factor to consider is the time that we are currently living in. We live in a time where more and more of the world is waking up to the fact that we all have a voice and deserve to be heard. Despite the disdain I feel for certain aspects of social media, the truth is that it has given rise to expression and freedom. More than ever, people can openly share their opinions, grievances and lived experiences. It has provided the opportunity for so many to forgo toxic work environments and take an active role in creating their own businesses and financial freedom. It has given a certain level of power back to the people instead of the establishments.

This shift is clearly displayed by those in the public eye. Take, for example, a recent interview Anne Hathaway did with V Magazine. She revealed the discomfort she felt when, at a young age, she was told that she had to kiss ten potential costars in one day for screen tests. Despite feeling uncomfortable, she did not want to be seen as difficult, so she feigned excitement and went along with it. This was a typical occurrence and response in the early aughts (and before). We constantly hear of actors who were subjected to experiences that would not fly today and felt they had no choice but to go along with it to not ruin their careers. As Anne stated, “It was just a very different time, and now we know better.”

She is right: the world does know better. I am not naive enough to think that unjust power dynamics no longer exist, but I am idealistic enough to believe that we are moving towards a time when they will not. More than ever before, we are being empowered to create and enforce clear boundaries. While many of us have been raised in a time when people-pleasing was viewed as a positive trait and being unproblematic meant being malleable, this is increasingly not the case. It is time for many of us to change the erroneous perspectives we were taught surrounding these things.

Aside from the personal benefits, I believe that moving away from or turning down things without guilt can benefit those around you as well, both in your personal life and in business. I look forward to discussing this further in next month’s article.

For now, I think it is important to focus on how saying NO to something that does not serve you is empowering. It shows the world what you will and will not accept. It prioritizes your well-being and allows you to show up as the best version of yourself. This does not mean you should never do anything you don’t want to do. Often, the situation calls for compromise. In other instances, the resistance felt is due to stepping out of your comfort zone. In both, deciding to move forward with a yes, despite initial thoughts to the contrary, is truly in your highest good. The beauty of the time we are living in, and the privilege my parents have worked hard to give me, is that I get to decide, without external pressure, if I will say YES or NO.

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