We are now one month into 2022 and most people I have spoken to are utterly exhausted. Many of my friends and family are mentally and physically exhausted dealing with loved ones who have contracted COVID or are battling COVID symptoms themselves. Others are feeling overworked at their places of employment because of so many COVID-related absences. And others still are dealing with the never-ending seesaw that is education. Suddenly my friends are supervising Zoom schooling and trying to make sure their children do not fall too far behind academically. Essentially, we are doing our best as we enter the third year of living in a global pandemic.
My dear friend and colleague Dr. Khalilah Brown-Dean always reminds me to “protect my peace.” As a political scientist who must deal with deniers of the January 6th insurrection or those who are not concerned with participating in our fragile democracy, adhering to Dr. Brown-Dean’s words can sometimes be difficult. However, I have discovered that the word “No” is a verb and that simple realization has changed my life tremendously.
So many people are asking more and more of us. At home, at work, in our various relationships. Many of us are doing the best we can, however, it is important to remember we cannot do everything for everyone. The more I practice saying “No” to minor and major requests, the calmer and saner I feel. Often, we are led to believe if we do not complete the task then it will not get done. That may or may not be true. One possibility is the task will likely get done, just not by you. Someone will likely step up and take the burden off your shoulders. Or the task will not get done. Plain and simple. Sometimes we must drop a ball to realize that life will go on without the task being completed.
It is imperative we internalize the notion that saying the word “No” can be a positive and liberating experience. Women, people of color, and especially women of color are often conditioned to feel the need to accept tasks without pushing back or feel that if they do push back then they are letting someone or a group down. This is not true. No is a complete sentence. Sometimes we do not owe anyone an explanation when we decline to participate or take on more work.
We must protect our peace during this time. The financial, emotional, mental, and even physical stressors are weighing on so many people and it is incumbent upon us to prioritize our health—in all facets—during this time. So, for the month of February, practice saying “No” and see how you feel and observe what still gets done when you give yourself a bit of a reprieve.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.