The Power of Saying No

Too much of a good thing can be bad for you, and it is important in life  to learn how much is too much and to say no when it is too much. As a mother bringing up two daughters to be responsible and productive adults, I have consistently preached on the value of working hard, and not giving up. I have drummed into their ears that success in life is 10 percent talent and 90 per cent hard work and making the most of your opportunities. So now I have only myself to blame for the constant battles with my younger daughter in the past 3 years of high school over wrapping up school work in time to get a good night’s rest. She is a meticulous and hard-working child who doesn’t hesitate to put her all into her school assignments. Her reward for this hard work has been  consistently stellar grades every term for the past 3 years, being an honour roll student and public recognition at school through various awards, of her outstanding academic achievements in various subjects. Hard work is second nature to her, and nothing comes between her and school work. So what you may ask is my problem? Let me tell you a story…

A few weeks ago, she was working on a  homework assignment. It was fairly late in the evening and I was heading up to bed when she asked me if I could help her with something. These days, being asked for help with homework doesn’t happen too often, so I am very flattered when she does ask, so of course I responded with enthusiasm. After a few minutes of poring over the wording of the question, I asked to see the notes the teacher had given her in class. This was not a subject that I was familiar with, but my daughter wasn’t asking for advice on content, it was more about how to present the material. So I figured if I could see how the teacher presented the information, I should be able to guide my daughter in finding an approach to tackle the questions. After half an hour of looking at the notes that addressed very little of what was being asked in the assignment, as well as looking at what my poor child had researched on her own with the omnipotent help of Google, I concluded that this was not an assignment that could be completed in time for the next day deadline that the teacher had set. I shared this epiphany with her, and asked my daughter, in a slightly irritated tone, why she had waited so late to start working on it. That’s when I found out they had only been given two days to do the assignment. This was the first opportunity she had had to tackle this assignment because she had been working on another one which had an earlier deadline.

What to do now ?  At this point, my sage advice to my daughter was to do what she could for the next hour and then go to bed. I offered to write a note to the teacher explaining that the time allotted for the assignment had not been sufficient. Of course my hard working, not-a-quitter daughter ignored my perfectly good advice, and, aided and abetted by her father who offered to help, she stayed up till 3am in a futile attempt to finish the assignment. In the end, I still had to write an explanatory (and slightly annoyed) email to the teacher explaining that it did not seem reasonable to expect  an assignment of that nature to be completed in the time she had indicated. Nobody else in the class had completed the assignment, and the teacher eventually extended the deadline. In addition to not completing the work after all that effort, the sacrifice of sleep made it difficult for my daughter  to function at full capacity at school the next day. This is what happens when you don’t say no to a task with an unreasonable deadline.

This incident was an extreme case of the homework dramas  involving losing sleep, not getting fresh air and exercise, missing family mealtimes all in the name of getting homework assignments completed. It made me reflect on the lesson that I had unintentionally taught her by extolling the virtues of not quitting and working hard. That lesson was that even if the task and deadline are unreasonable, and attempting it is in fact detrimental to your health, you must still do your best to complete the task. Working hard is very important, but it is also equally important to understand when the task set before you is unreasonable for whatever reason. If the task cannot be reasonably completed in the time allotted the thing to do is to say no. Working hard is one thing, but working hard to the exclusion of activities that keep us healthy and whole, on a regular basis, is not a goal to aspire to.

Getting enough sleep, eating properly, physical activity and spending time with family is just as important as working hard. If my daughters don’t learn to identify and reject unreasonable demands on their time and energy, they will end up sacrificing the very things that will ensure that they will be able to enjoy the ultimate fruits of their hard work. I need to teach them this now, while they are still under my care, dealing with the pressures and challenges of school. It is not a lesson I learned until I had been working for many years and I too struggle to consistently practise what I have learned. If I can arm my daughters with these important life skills of identifying and saying no to unreasonable demands, they are much more likely to find balance as working adults, and also the time and health to truly enjoy the fruits of their hard work.


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