Lena Dunham Has Something To Say About The Importance Of Saying No

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  • And we couldn't agree more...

    At Marie Claire, we’re trying to #BreakFree from the need to be liked, from trying to make people happy all the time, and from never putting ourselves first – and now we couldn’t be happier to see that actress, writer and all-round superwoman Lena Dunham agrees with us.

    Lena penned an article for LinkedIn called ‘Don’t Take it Personally When I Tell You “No.” I’m Using it On Everyone This Year’, in which she spoke about the importance of saying ‘no’.

    Arguing that constantly saying ‘yes’ affected her personal life and, to an even greater extent, her work life, Lena wrote that the culture of ‘yes’ is damaging us and making us increasingly stressed.

    While initially arguing that sometimes we should say ‘yes’ (‘yes, do try hiking in Fiji!’ she wrote. ‘And yes, accept a date with that handsome Italian who works at the bar you frequent, even if it might make things awkward down the line’), saying that a ‘well-timed yes can expand our world in beautiful and unexpected ways,’ she urged us to remember the power of ‘another simple word’: ‘no’.

    Lena confessed to being something many women will identify with: a people pleaser.

    ‘I am in YES recovery,’ she wrote. ‘Like many humans, many women, I am a people pleaser. Can I be there at noon? Sure can! Will I bring three hundred bucks in foreign currency? Absolutely! Will I also promise to help a friend move, be late meeting them because I also agreed to babysit another friend’s sick rabbit, then disappoint everyone in the process? I sure will!

    ‘“No” is a word that could have served me well many times, but I didn’t ever feel I had the right to use it,’ she added.

    ‘A delightful cocktail of self-doubt blended with the need for constant approval had me convinced that “yes” was the key to my like-ability. Without “yes” what did I have to offer? And so I sprinkled it liberally, and as my obligations built up, so did my resentments, so did my feelings of inadequacy. Nice cycle, that one.’

    It’s hard not to relate to this – whether we’re asked to do something by our boss, our family or our friends, it can feel incredibly selfish and unhelpful to put ourselves first and say no, as Lena explained.

    ‘Because I had so much shame about the private strings of unanswered texts, broken plans, re-made promises, at work it became my mission to answer every email no matter the hour, agree to every added task, finish the day off by reading a link sent by a colleague rather than a book for pleasure,’ she wrote. ‘Even as a boss, I often refused to delegate, instead taking on added jobs for my employees in hopes that they’d be impressed by just how on the ball I was. If there was an extra-curricular writing assignment, I took it.

    ‘If there was a chance to run like a maniac from work to a panel, toilet paper trailing from my heel, tea stains on my blouse, I was doing that too. And for awhile, it worked like a charm. A compliment like “you’re the fastest email-er I know,” or “how do you do so much at once?” was better than a romantic sweet nothing to me. It fulfilled my desire to be seen as unsinkable, reliable. And in the deepest place, lovable.’

    However, Lena wrote, it’s only possible to try to please everyone for so long, and with both her personal life and her work life suffering, so exhausted she couldn’t stick to the unrealistic deadlines she had set for herself, she had to make a change.

    ‘It was a slow process,’ she wrote. ‘But a polite “no” soon entered my vernacular. “I can’t do it realistically by Friday,” or “I wish I could be on that panel but my week is insane,” or even “no, I’m not comfortable with this dynamic.”

    ‘And something miraculous happened: my personal life followed suit. I can’t be at the birthday party. I don’t want to go to laser tag ever as long as I live. I am exhausted. People respond well to honesty, to reality. They understand. And so with those no’s, YES sprung back up everywhere. Funny how that works.’

    At age 29, Lena has already achieved so much – creating an award-winning series, starring in it, releasing a bestselling book and becoming one of the preeminent feminist voices of her generation.

    So if Lena tells us it’s okay to say ‘no’ – and it will lead to more ‘yeses’ down the line, we’ll just have to listen.

    Do you say ‘yes’ too much, or have you learnt that it’s okay to say ‘no’ sometimes? Let us know @marieclaireuk

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