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Over-worked, over-burdened, and retired??
by: Sherri Fogel

The Predicament
My daughter, Charlotte, just called and wants to drop off the kids so that she can go to the gym.  But then how am I going to get the cookies made for the church social, get my husband's laundry taken to the cleaners, cook my famous fried chicken dinner that my son wants to pick up and take home, and still make it to the hospital to make my sick visit rounds tonight?  What will people think?

The Decision
That's a predicament that I found myself in one day. I'd  That is when I decided... okay, so it sounds a little cold, but the answer to my problem lies in one word... "no".  In fact, with a schedule like that, that word probably should have slipped out a few more times.

Probably one of the hardest shortest words to say, "no" is also one of the most empowering.  So why don't people say it more often?  It's kind of a trap that we allow ourselves to fall into.  

Everyone likes to be needed and useful.  It's a self-congratulatory thing to think that someone just cannot make it without you, that you are indispensable.   It strokes our ego and that makes us feel good.  But it is a trap nonetheless.  

Like a habit, getting our good feelings from being indispensable lends itself to doing more of the same.  Before you know it, you are over the top and getting just a little bit more satisfaction from being a martyr. (Poor, poor, pitiful me.)  

Then there are those who feed that habit by telling you what a wonderful person you are for doing so much for so many... more feel good!  Get the picture?

Yet despite all that "feel good" stuff that's coming your way, there is still that little voice of discontent in the background that is telling you that you are being used and complaining that you are the fall-guy for everything that nobody else wants to do.

There is no easy way out, but like it has been said, even the longest trip begins with the first step.  The trick is not to say no to everything, just those things that you really don't want to do or those things that others could easily do for themselves.

Not Friends
I found it easier to start with people that weren't related to me.  I realized that there were people that only sought me out when they had something that they wanted me to do for them.  That helped because it kind of made me mad.  Talk about being used.

The funny thing is that when I first started telling these people no, I started by apologizing. "I am so sorry, I just don't think I can find the time." Talk about a wimp!  I learned however, that when you say no, you cannot afford to be sorry because they will take advantage of it.  

You will get conned into if you are too much of a sap to take a stand for yourself.  It does take getting personal preparation though.  Practice saying no before hand and you won't get caught.  The more resolute you sound when you say no, the less argument that you will hear.  Sure, at first you will get the old guilt trips thrown on you.  Expect it. 

When I first started telling people I wouldn't do things for them, I got the old evil stare.  The one that says "you aren't doing your fair share" or "you betrayed me" or "you're not one of us anymore".  

What I learned was that I wasn't one of them to begin with.  We weren't friends, we just lived in the same neighborhoods or went to the same church.  But we weren't friends.  In fact the only thing that I had in common with many of these people was that none of us knew how to say no.

The Kids
Then the big question: How to handle friends and relatives?  How to turn my daughter down when she thinks that mom is the default baby-sitter that can be called on 10 minutes notice.  How about the friend that wants some help doing this or that?

The first thing that I found is that since I'd dumped the stuff from people that I didn't know, I didn't mind helping friends and family as much.  But I still knew that I had to gain control of the situations; not just give in because it was thrown in my lap.

Off to Wal-Mart to buy a caller-ID unit.  Now I know who is calling and can choose to answer the call... if I want.  Still the chicken's way out but the start of my plan.  Sure, I got a little heat later.  "Where were you when I needed you?  

I needed to go to the gym!" To which I would retort, "Sorry, but I have a life too, you know.  Call ahead next time and check to see if I am available."  You should have seen the look on Chelsea's face.  You would have thought I'd given her rock solid proof that the Pope had converted to Judaism.  

Sure, she tried it again.  You didn't expect that 27 years of history would be washed away with one shot did you?  In fact she did it quite a few more times, each time just as horrified that I wasn't available.  

Gradually though, she did start calling ahead and I would pick and choose my times.  She started adjusting to my available times instead of vice versa.

Friends are another issue.  It can be somewhat scary to tell a life-long friend that you cannot be available or can't help with something.  There's always that concern that your life-long friendship will be at an end.  

Friends adjust though.  I found that being completely honest was the best thing.  With Judi for example: I told her that I wanted to start to choose experiences and tasks instead of them choosing me and that sometimes, I'd have to say no.  Judi evidently though I meant only other people at first, but by being gentle and letting her adjust, she did adjust.

The Big DH
The biggest issue was my husband, Dan (also on staff here at SeniorMag).  Dan's a great guy, someone that you can depend on and who will never knowingly take advantage of anyone.  But over the years, I encouraged it.  

I'd insist on doing certain things that he'd have been better off doing himself, for himself.  This had to be handled with care.  Sure, he'd understand, but changing 30 years of habits overnight would rock his world.  He'd probably think something was wrong.

Again, complete honesty was the ticket.  Dan wasn't sure what I was talking about but wanting me to be happy, he'd really work with it.  To be sure, I was gentle, "Honey, I'm pretty tied up this afternoon, could you drop those shirts to the cleaners instead?"

I still find moments of weakness.  Times when things just get thrust upon me without my consent.  I guess it happens to everyone.  

Now it's the exception and when those exceptions happen, I don't get nearly as bent out of shape as I used to.  Getting off the blood pressure medicine... the ticket to determining I was headed in the right direction.



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