Learning to Say No


By Charlotte Philby


Dreamy situation here.

I’ve never met Charlotte in real life. But I have huge respect for her- every single thing she writes and publishes at Motherland is mind expanding and intelligent without being heavy going. Perfect combo. She also has three kids. Also amazing.

I hope that Charlotte and I can meet soon and be friends. Ha!

In the meantime have a gander at this bang ‘on the money’ Guest List entitled: ‘The Cult of Busy and The Art of Saying No’.

  • I’m sure quite when ‘busy’ became a by-word for successful. Somewhere along the lines it feels like we’ve started to confuse the empowering possibility of Having it All (that elusive state preserved solely for the aspirations of women) with the duty to do everything, at once, without every stopping to wonder why.

  • The doors our foremothers fought hard to crack open for us have paved the path for a brilliant, supportive, powerful global network of mothers building their own businesses, destabilising the old boys club through the power of social media and remote working. Rather than smashing the glass ceiling, we’re building our own offices from our kitchens, our own networking clubs from our phone-screens – creating a seismic shift in the way we live now.

  • It is the possibility of new media and the empowering nature of this clan of women from across the globe working together to support each other which has enabled me to grow Motherland.net – a platform “for women who happen to be mums”, launched at the end of 2014 as an antidote to the largely saccharine-sweet or intentionally-polarising publications so often aimed at new mums – to what it is has become (something I’m hugely proud of) while having recently had my third child. 

  • In one sense it’s been a brilliant gift: launching my own business, being my own boss, creating something I never knew I was capable of, while learning so much – the majority of it on the hoof. 

  • But it’s also been hugely overwhelming. Being a parent while constantly grabbing opportunities, at a frenzied, almost indiscriminate, pace ‘BECAUSE THEY MIGHT JUST DRY UP IF I DON’T!’ is a nonsense. It’s exhausting, it’s unsustainable, and it’s really unhealthy. But it’s also increasingly normal, when I talk to friends and listen to our readers; this is how so many of us are working these days: relentlessly, and with little real consideration for what we’re doing it for.

  • I can’t help wondering if as we (rightfully) congratulate one another for all that we’re achieving, that we’re simultaneously doing ourselves a disservice. By using language such as ‘superwoman’ and constantly encouraging one another to be the best we can be and seize every opportunity, as has become so commonplace, particularly online, I can’t help but think we’re setting ourselves – and eachother – up for a fall. Because, ultimately, our resources are finite. Everyone has a limit, and when you’re raising children, sometimes it’s very much pushed on a daily basis without the need to add more to your work-load, let alone the weight of a sense that we should be doing more.

  • The truth is you don’t have to be a #mumboss in order to be a mum who is bossing it.

  • Yes, we should strive for what we want to achieve, and thank God we live in an age where we’re freer than we ever were to do that. But that doesn’t have to be everything; and certainly not all at once. Maybe it’s OK to keep our ambitions pretty basic: getting out the house, having the occasional shower, having kids who know we love them… 

  • For me, rather than striving to say ‘yes’ all the time,in order to get where I want to be, and to be the fulfilled, present mother and human I aspire to become (this is very much a work in progress!), I’m working on saying ‘no’. Because actually sometimes not doing is not just OK, it’s good.

  • Here are my rules:

  • 1. Know your ‘yes’: I nicked this from a great pal/former colleague Clare Dwyer Hogg who explained that knowing your yes (where you want to be or the kind of life you want) is the first step to understanding your ‘no’ – the things that won’t help you achieve those goals.

  • 2. Chill out: This doesn’t mean start reading books about Slow Parenting, mindfulness or other prescribed systems to become a more present you. It means, quite simply, worry a bit less. In part thanks to the constant reminder of how shiny everyone else’s life seems on social media, and the idea that we’re constantly being judged online, it’s easy to think everyone else is judging you. In reality, they’re not. And if they are, who cares? Be yourself, and accept that’s enough.

  • 3. Take time off: It’s pretty basic but something we’re really good at forgetting to do. Yes, there’s a mountain of washing to do, emails to read and kids parties to attend. But you can’t do them all, so give yourself a break and take time to do nothing. By which I didn’t’ actually mean sit still in a silent room – for me, drinking wine and chewing the ear off my friends is a sure path to happiness; I rather mean don’t feel you always have to be on-call. Because you don’t, and you’ll be far more productive if you give yourself a break then start again…

  • 4. Don’t overthink it: I don’t think I’m alone in spending an inordinate amount of time deliberating what would make me ‘truly happy’. My husband and I have watched every episode of Escape to the Country, yearning after a calmer existence, which we’d achieve if we *just* had a few more sheep in eye-line, and debated the 320 life-paths that we could pursue to achieve the perfect balance. The truth is we have three kids under five – life is not going to be straightforward any time soon, regardless of where we live, but it is fun – sometimes – and would be more so if we’d just let ourselves get on with it a bit more rather than constantly hankering after the greener grass on the other side…

  • 5. Go with your gut: You know when an opportunity is put in front of you and you think ‘I really should do that!’ while a looming sense of dread builds just thinking about taking on something else? This is the point when I now say ‘sorry, I can’t’. Not to everything. There are some thing we can’t ignore forever: like tax returns or hungry children. But when it comes to freelance projects, in particular, I’d got to this point where I’d say ‘yes’ because I didn’t want to let people down. I’ve now realised it’s OK to say no. And that doesn’t mean someone won’t ask again; because people understand – in regard to other people, if not themselves – that people can’t say yes to everything. The sense of relief when you send an email saying ‘sorry I can’t’ to a request that you can’t possibly fit in but for a second thought you had to, is amazing. Try it and see for yourself!

Now go check out some of the great stuff on Motherland

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