Happy New Year everyone! With the new year of 2016 safely rolled in with no Y2K scares or ancient Mayan prophecies to worry about, I’d say we’re already off to a good start. It’s an amazing time to be alive right now. Though we’re still fighting hard for more social justices, we have never been freer to love than we are right now. In saying that, I always encourage people to spread the love. Sprinkle as much good karma out there as possible and you will be surprised how powerfully it comes back to you. However, I’m not talking about just sending love towards others. I’m talking about sending love towards the most important person in each of our lives: ourselves.
Self-love is always a tricky thing, both to talk about and to practice. There are so many ways we can demonstrate love towards ourselves, but unfortunately, there are also many ways, some so small we may not even realize, that we can fail to love ourselves. One very common way is to always say “yes.” Saying yes is important–it opens us up to new experiences, or allows us to help our friends and coworkers. But saying yes to others too often means we can’t say yes to ourselves.
It’s common for women even in this day and age to be raised to people please; to say yes to whatever is thrown at us because we have to prove we’re as good as…what? Men? Corporations? Older women? I’m not quite sure, but what I do know is that I didn’t understand how much my yes was worth until I started being able to say no.
Growing up, the word no was frowned upon because expectations were that I had to look good as, but not better. I had to be good as, but not better. I had to be strong as, but not stronger. And of course I had to be smart as, but not smarter. There were stopping points, and I had to accept each and every one of them or I would be shunned by those around me. The word yes forced me into a lifestyle I hated, but what choice does a child have if they’re not taught differently? We’re groomed to say yes, for fear that the word no will isolate us.
I started admitting love for myself when I was twenty, which is pretty late in life. On most scales, your twenties are pretty young. But let’s think about it–twenty years at any stage of your life is quite a long time. Especially when it comes to finding the good in oneself. So yes, I tried to practice self love at twenty, but in reality I didn’t actually mean it until I was twenty-three and living in China as a teacher. I was finding myself saying yes to things left and right. Yes, I’ll teach this subject I’ve never taught before. Yes, I’ll create a whole new curriculum for just one student. Yes, I’ll not only teach and prep eight hours of the day but I’ll also re-write everything for our school from Chinese to English because the original translator did such a horrid job. Yes, I’ll also handle the admissions and sit quietly in marketing meetings as the Vice Principal takes all the credit for the power point presentation I created.
It didn’t stop there. I also said yes and attempted to simply laugh off creepy encounters with other teachers and ex-pats because I wanted to be accepted in the very small pool of English-speaking people that lived in the city. I endured drunken slurs about my looks, inappropriate touches, horrible text messages, and downright vulgar propositions because I thought that being alienated in a country where I was already alienated enough would be worse. But I was wrong.
One day the Chinese government officials came to our school, along with some prestigious financial backers to view our progress.
It was a horrible day. I was with the Vice Principal to greet everyone and I fell twice because they had polished the marble floor and I was wearing high heels. My knees were busted open and I was bleeding through my maxi skirt. Shortly after that we were walking up the stairs when the stand-in Principal grabbed me by my arm and told me that our music teacher was refusing to teach her class for our guests to watch, and that I must cover it. Though I wanted nothing more than to get to a private place to ice my knees and cry away the pain, I swallowed it all and pulled a lesson plan out of thin air. Surprisingly, it went smoothly, until another teacher came in and interrupted my class to say that this was all a joke and that not only was I not the class’s real teacher, but that there was no real proof that this was a curriculum lesson.
I stormed out of the classroom, tears in my eyes, and hid in my classroom until the Vice Principal came to fetch me for a meeting. He saw what bad shape I was in and actually sat down and talked to me for a few minutes. After I told him everything that had happened, he asked me a simple question: why didn’t I just say no?
I had never even considered the word no as an answer. I merely assumed that in the work force you always had to say yes if you wanted to keep your job. Yet despite all of the yes’s I had given my school, I still hadn’t been promoted like I was promised. I was merely being taken advantage of.
The next day I decided to try this mysterious and elusive word: No. Not at work, but at an ex-pat gathering. You know, because I needed baby steps.
“Hey Cass, dance with me.” It wasn’t even a question really.
“No.” I responded, my entire body trembling in fear, thinking that the world would surely end.
“Don’t be a bitch,” he replied, “dance with me.”
“No. You’re rude and arrogant, and I don’t want you touching me,” I said, sticking to my guns. In hindsight I probably could have been a little kinder, but he had no right to question my choice. And they all knew I had a boyfriend back in the States but many still tried to cross the line. He looked at me like I had three heads, murmured a curse word, and walked away. The awe of what just happened coursed through me in a euphoric rush, and I realized how much more I liked myself because I could say no for me. The world didn’t end. He didn’t hit me or try to force it. Sure he called me a name or two, but what worth did that have from a handsy drunk? From then on, I became stronger.
Next, I said no to creating a presentation for someone else that I wouldn’t get credit for. And just like that, I was gaining my own power for the very first time. I wasn’t getting paid for all the extra work I was doing, and I never would. If I had time for it, I would take a task to help out. But after that, I refused to teach classes that weren’t mine to begin with, and I stepped down from the admissions position as well. I predicted things were going to crumble, and I didn’t care. I was feeling better about myself, and got my first taste of real, true love for me.
However, things didn’t crumble. I wasn’t kicked out of the ex-pat society. I didn’t lose my students or my editing job, my two favorite parts of my day. Instead, I was respected because I finally found respect for myself. Yeah, the guys that tried to grab me all the time didn’t talk to me anymore, but why was that bad? And those time-consuming jobs were handed off to actual secretaries. I found I had time to actually think and read and have entire meals again.
I didn’t get my promotion, but I did get a raise as well as a smaller workload for the next year. When I left and came back to the States, I brought the power of no with me as I started becoming a freelance writer. I knew my worth, and it was and still is an amazing feeling.
So I leave you with this: Loving and trusting yourself is the best thing you can do for you. When you speak up in the meeting, drop the “sorry for interrupting.” When you find yourself pushed uncomfortably into a corner, either in your work or personal life, say no. Stand up for who you are. Say no to toxic people and situations in your life. Give yourself the chance to grow into the amazingly strong person you know you can be. And remember: Be strong. Be Beautiful. Be Amazing.
Cassidy Pittman was born in McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania, and has lived in various parts of the United States and China. She graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor’s in Literary Studies and Writing Skills in May of 2012. Cassidy has worked as a ghost writer and editor for international companies.