Indulge me in a quick thought experiment: Imagine yourself as a kid again.
What came to mind? Perhaps an image of you at elementary age, running free, exploring your neighborhood subject only to the limits of your imagination, unburdened by adult concerns of meal planning, mortgage payments, and marriage woes.
The other day a friend shared with me his irritation at the feeling he’s being asked to carry more responsibility that he really wants. He’s single, childless, and works hard at his job, which pays him fairly. He’s in a position to easily experience the unbounded freedoms of childhood. And yet, he found himself recently saying “yes” to a few too many requests on his time and abilities. “But I want to help,” he counters, mostly to himself. He values service, community, and connection so it’s important to him to provide what others need if he’s in a position to offer.
But something wasn’t sitting well with him and it was obvious. His anger fomented at the top of the conversation like a froth. “I don’t want all this responsibility,” he whined, “I just want to be a kid again.”
I sat there listening but couldn’t help think of my own kid, newly two years old. What do you know of two year olds? They love to say “No.” Or in some cases, “No! No, no, no, NO!”
This was something about being a kid that my friend–and I think most of us–often forget. Kids are excellent at setting boundaries around what they like and don’t like, what they will do and won’t do. They don’t think about how saying no might make them temporarily unlikeable. They don’t worry about it. And so, they enjoy sharing when it feels good and ignore requests to put to down they toy when they’re absorbed with it. It’s simple math.
But what do we do? We put others first before our own needs and desires to the point that we feel resentful of the very people we care so much about. How can we be more like a kid again? We could practice saying no.
The next time you receive an invitation to an event that sounds nice but you’d rather not get in the car to stay out late? Say no. Stay in and read on the couch instead, it’s what you really want to do.
The next time your eyes get bigger than your stomach but you know you don’t really want that fourth cookie? Say no. Listen to your gut.
You can change your mind, you can surprise people, you can make different choice, you can say no. Kids do.