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Learning to hear no – the path to realism and resilience

There really is life-changing magic in understanding and accepting that it is OK to be someone who gets a lot of ‘no's. Most people are, even on their most charming of days.

While growing up in India; mostly under the care of my maternal grandmother, one of the key life lessons taught to me was the importance of compromise in life. My grandmother would often say – you will mostly not get what you want in life. And that’s ok. This was the late eighties and nineties in India. Hearing and ‘accepting’ no for an answer was considered not only inevitable but also necessary for a happy and healthy life.

Today, this is possibly taboo to say out loud. It’s defeatist you see – they’d say – for life is all about getting what we want. Manifesting. Pursuing.

Do not give up. Negotiate to get a yes for an answer. Hustle. Lean in. Grit is everything. Persistence and determination. Eye on the goal – whether the goal is deserving of this kind of an effort (say a long term life goal or striving for wholesome betterment) or is most possibly trivial in the bigger picture of life (a promotion or raise comes to mind). Getting yes-s and likes is imperative, for hearing no is not a respectable, acceptable option.

Off-course, absolutely, all of the skillsets above have high value. The point here is not de-value those skills. It’s also true that some people have a knack higher than others of getting ‘yes’s more than ‘no’s. But what does associating self-worth and success with ‘yes’ and ‘yes’ only in all matters do to us, most mortals (if we dare admit that we are so)?

Not much good, in my opinion. 

For I believe that after all, success is an illusion or at the bare minimum, subjective. And life is enjoyable mostly through satisfaction with what is.

We are being taught to say ‘no’. Particularly us women (maybe because of our real or perceived propensity of spreading ourselves thinner). But hearing ‘no’? It has to follow as a natural consequence of the former if everyone is following advice, correct? We don’t talk much about that. And in the silence around that, we often make ourselves miserable equating ‘no’ to failure.

Another concern, leaving the misery aside, is of risk and risk-taking. According to recently published studies, we, women, judge ourselves and get judged harsher for failures and linger longer apparently which makes us more risk-averse. If we believe that, the consequences of being ‘no’ averse disadvantages us by a higher degree.

Me being particularly sensitive (I am associating that to being sentimental more than being a woman or being conditioned to be a woman, keeping the gender similarity hypotheses in mind) took a simple ‘no’ as a personal failure in spite of the childhood wisdom imbibed in me. One time in grad school, having run out of quarters to put into the laundry on a snowy afternoon, I had run to the small pharmacy nearest to the laundromat, drenched and cold. I had rushed up to the counter panting and had asked to loan a few quarters. And then, possibly hearing the awkwardness of my own request – ‘loan’ – had added: ‘I thought it’s OK to ask.’ ‘Off-course it always is,’ the man at the counter had responded, ‘but it’s also OK to hear no.’ And then, as my eyes had started tearing up, he took out some quarters and asked me how many I needed.

My eyes had teared up as I took the possible ‘no’ as not only an inconvenience but also as a shortcoming. Of me. And a recent negotiation on raise, which I had failed to secure, took me back to this realization. That’s what I realized that we are constantly fed through the one-sided lessons on life and achievements. That a ‘no’ is a reflection somehow of our being someone, or not trying something enough.

The obvious point left conveniently unanswered is that of control. Most things have factors beyond us and beyond our control that cause the result. For example, in the raise situation, I realized after the passing of initial disappointment that not my preparation, but the department budget is to blame. No amount of grit (or grief), could have yielded a different result. Just like, in the pharmacy all those years back, the good man might just have decided to not loan the quarters for a greater need he’d need to attend to later for his business. All very obvious, and quite simple matters. But not so simple to make peace with when we expect ourselves to be infallible.

This is what I see more and more around me. From personal relationships to professional goals, even when it is apparent that our entire being is OK with letting things be, accepting the no-s in life seem to be unacceptable. We are wired to keep trying. From conversations to strategies, from working on self to on the situation or the other person, thanks to the dominant messages out there today.

There really is life-changing magic in understanding and accepting that it is OK to be someone who gets a lot of ‘no’s. Most people are, even on their most charming of days. Imagine how free we’d be, what mountains we’d dare climb, which long shunned friends we’d reconnect with, if we would get ourselves to rejoice equally, or at least be unaffected, by the possibility of a no. Hearing a no and being OK with it, bears nothing on us except maturity and realism. It builds us up for resilience, for grit, like a muscle, comes more from no-s than from yes-s.

Tanushree Ghosh can be followed @thoughtsnrights, or at www.thoughtsandrights.com. Her latest work is now available on Amazon.

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