By Bev Bachel
I’m a people pleaser. As a result, I often find myself saying yes when I’d rather say no. So do many of my retired friends who admit to feeling overwhelmed by requests from their friends, family, neighbors and former colleagues who assume they now have all sorts of free time for everything from babysitting and running errands to volunteering and doing airport drop-offs and pickups.
Say yes too often and you, like me, may find yourself missing out on the exact things you’d been looking forward to in retirement.
So why do we say yes when we’d much rather say no? Common reasons include:
- Sense of duty: “They’re my parents, so I ought to do what they ask.”
- Desire to reciprocate: “She once did a similar favor for me, so I owe her.”
- Guilt: “I said no the last two times she asked, so I better say yes now.”
- Fear of hurting someone’s feelings: “I’m concerned he’ll feel bad if I say no.”
- Fear of missing out: “If I don’t go, I might miss something wonderful or she might stop inviting me.
As this list makes clear, there are many reasons why we say yes when we’d rather say no. When we do, we let ourselves down and may even grow resentful. If we’re not careful, we may even begin to feel that the retirement of our dreams is slipping out of reach.
That’s why learning to say “no” is so important. It is the simplest way to free up the time, energy and money for the things you truly want to do.
But how do you know what to say no to? I reached out to several retired friends and colleagues, and here are the top five activities they listed as no-worthy:
- Time-consuming favors. Yes, I can drive you to the airport. No, I cannot do your grocery shopping every week. Yes, I can run that errand. No, I cannot commit to volunteering weekly.
- Pressure to keep up. So what if your best friend plays pickleball three times a week, a fellow retiree serves on two nonprofit boards or a former coworker spends more money eating out monthly than you do on your mortgage. It’s not a competition.
- Tasks you can easily outsource. I have a century-old oak tree in my backyard and used to spend several fall weekends raking leaves. Now, I donate to my neighborhood YMCA and a team of four college student-volunteers shows up on a Saturday afternoon and within hours the job is done.
- Babysitting the grandkids. Several people I know provide regular daycare for their grandkids, sometimes at the expense of their own retirement dreams. Rather than growing resentful, they’ve learned to set boundaries so they can enjoy both their grandkids and their alone time.
- Mindless habits. FreeCell. Jigsaw puzzles. Wordle, Quordle and even Octordle. They may keep your brain limber but can turn into time-consuming habits that erode your self-esteem and jeopardize your retirement dreams. So can excessive phone talking and TV watching, neither of which were likely part of your retirement plan.
Tips for saying no
Saying no to others doesn’t mean you’re selfish or a bad person. Nor does it mean you should feel guilty. Still it can be difficult—or even a surprise to others if you’re known as a “yes” person. Here are some tips that can help:
- Take three deep breaths. Whether you’re being asked to donate to a political candidate you don’t feel strongly about or join your friends for an evening out when you’d rather stay at home, stop and take three deep breaths before responding. Even pausing for just a few seconds can make saying no easier.
- Just say it. No need to beat around the bush or offer excuses or long-winded explanations.“Sorry, I can’t,” “Gee, I’m already overbooked,” and “Sorry, now is not a good time” are complete sentences and enough of an explanation.
- Use email. If you don’t think you’ll be able to stick to saying no, consider email instead. Opt for short and to the point: “I appreciate you asking, but I’m not going to be able to help this time.”
- Offer an alternative. “I can’t attend in person, but I can join via Zoom” and “I would love to volunteer but only for two hours, not four” are two ways of protecting your time.
- Find a “no buddy.” I’m a big believer in goal buddies, and now I have a couple of “no buddies,” trusted colleagues and friends I reach out to whenever I’m tempted to say yes but know I ought to say no. They not only give me permission to decline, they help me figure out how to do so.
While saying no can be difficult, especially at first, the more you practice, the easier it gets—and the more opportunity you’ll have to say yes to all the things you want to enjoy in retirement.
Bev Bachel is a Minneapolis freelance writer who is getting better at saying no. She’s also the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A Guide for Teens.
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