I had two conversations today that reinforced for me the importance of the lessons I’ve been learning lately about when it’s appropriate to say “no” to a project.
This afternoon, a friend described a litany of projects that are draining her time and energy and creating a great deal of stress in her life. I could feel her frustration and exhaustion as she told me what she was up against. The sad part was that many of these projects are things she didn’t even want to do; she just took them on because someone asked her to, and she didn’t have the nerve to say no.
Then, this evening, I heard from another friend who had stepped down from her position with an organization that is in the middle of a very large, very demanding project. I think the situation was a little complicated, but if I understood her correctly, the upshot was that it had become very stressful for her, and she did not feel her involvement represented the best use of her time.
As I thought about my friends’ situations, I began reflecting on my own habit of saying yes to everything.
I like to believe that I take on projects out of a desire to help others. That’s a great motive. Helping others is reflecting divine Love — God — which is exactly what we were created to do. Jesus taught that we can save ourselves a lot of trouble if we allow Love to drive our actions.
But as I began peeling back the layers of thought underpinning my actions, I discovered that even in the midst of expressing Love, we can find ourselves drifting into various types of error. For instance:
Fear. How often do we say yes to a project because we’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t? Fear is never a valid reason for doing anything. It will run (and ruin!) your life if you let it, and it can lead you into many other kinds of error.
Arrogance. Sometimes fear stems from an exaggerated sense of our own importance or a diminished sense of others’ value or ability. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken on projects because I was afraid that nobody else would be willing or able to do the work, or because I simply didn’t trust someone else to get it right. But intelligence, skill, and generosity are qualities of divine Mind, which we all reflect. Everybody has access to unlimited supplies of those qualities, so there’s no reason for any of us to think we’re the only one smart enough, talented enough, or generous enough to complete a given task.
Selfishness. “I thought of this project. It’s mine, and you can’t have it. I’m going to do it myself because I came up with it.” Ever caught yourself thinking along those lines? I have. Besides being terribly childish, this mindset implies that the idea came from me. But while I am sometimes allowed to serve as the conduit for a good idea, I am never the source. Why, then, would I become rigid and selfish and unwilling to let anybody else have the fun of implementing a particular idea?
The worst part of buying into this kind of error is that if we’re not careful, we can end up monopolizing all the projects that come our way, which deprives others of the joy of helping. (I riffed on that idea here.) Meanwhile, we keep ourselves so busy “rushing around smartly,” as Mary Baker Eddy puts it, that we sometimes neglect things that seem less pressing but are infinitely more important — stuff like caring for our family and friends, spending time with our spouses, playing with our children (including the four-legged kind), or pursuing activities that contribute directly to our spiritual growth.
I’m not suggesting we should blow off all the projects that come our way. We should never become so selfish and insular that we refuse to reach out to others with love and compassion. But instead of blindly saying yes to every request for assistance, we would be wise to examine our motives, and if we find that our answer is motivated by anything less than a desire to express Love, then we need to change that answer. It may be that the project or position we turn down is exactly what someone else needed to express Love more fully, and everyone involved will be blessed by our decision.