Say Goodbye To Maybe

Image courtesy of Benheim

As December comes to an end, millions of women begin mulling over resolutions for the impending year: Maybe I should get in better shape. Maybe I should go back to school. Maybe, maybe… We all know most resolutions deflate faster than the balloons that drop on New Year’s Eve; despite our best intentions, life happens and our goals and ambitions are set aside. This year, I challenge women everywhere to do one small thing with huge implications: say goodbye to maybe.

It’s a small word, just five little letters. Literally, the word maybe means “possibly or probably”. However, women often use maybe when we want to say no, but hesitate out of fear we will disappoint someone, or to avoid conflict. My son recently said, “Mom, when you say maybe, it usually really means no.” He’s got me there. Many times I have told him “Maybe” in answer to his questions: Can I have a friend over to play this week? Can we go to the waterpark next weekend? Can we have pizza for dinner? We use maybe with our kids when we don’t want to be pressed into a decision or to avoid an argument right before bedtime.

We also use maybe with other adults; when asked if we can take on another project at work, if we can help with that fundraising event for our kids’ schools, when asked if we can help out with that charity event for our church. Maybe is a word we use to buy time, to deflect, to put off the decision. The problem is, maybe isn’t a real answer, so it only succeeds in pushing off the answer until the situation can no longer be avoided–and by then, it will be even harder to decline if that’s what we wanted to do in the first place. How refreshing it would be to just say yes when we want to do something and no when we don’t, instead of living in the undefined, ambivalent world of maybe.

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Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend have seen this struggle so often that they wrote a series of “Boundaries” books to help people say yes and no to situations in their lives. If you, like me, have trouble saying no to people, I highly recommend checking out their work. As Dr. Henry Cloud has said, “Our sense of being able to own our own behavior is critical for having a sense of power and a sense of control over our lives.”

This year, I encourage women to take control by giving ourselves permission to say no. Of course we are adults; we don’t really need permission. Still I sometimes think it would be nice if the Permission Fairy landed on our doorstep to tell us it’s okay to say no sometimes. I hear men say no to each other all the time; they don’t typically get mad or hold a grudge, they just move on. Yet women seem to fear saying no because we fear conflict; ironically, though, by saying maybe we get ourselves into an even more stressful position as we continue on with a sense of impending dread, the delayed decision hanging over our head until we finally come up with some lame excuse why we can’t help out, or, more often than not, give in and take on something we really don’t want to do. Let’s challenge that mindset this year: if we are asked to take on something we don’t want to do, we can simply smile and say, “No, I’m sorry I can’t help with that.” No need to give a laundry list of reasons or justifications–just a firm, polite and simple decline of the offer. Those few seconds of fleeting guilt at saying no will fade much faster than the frustration and resentment that come from taking on something we don’t want to do. Furthermore, saying no gets easier with time as we begin to trust ourselves and value our own priorities.

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The flip side to the ‘no more maybe’ coin is to say yes when we want to say yes. How many times do we say, “Maybe I’ll run a 5k this year”, or, “Maybe I’ll take that class this year”, only to get sidetracked by work, laundry, and running our kids to their events? Kind of ironic that this elusive maybe seems to turn into yes when we mean no, and no when we really want to say yes. And we wonder why we walk around with that little sense of frustration/dissatisfaction in the back of our heads. No more maybe. If you are thinking of starting a running program, find a race in your area. Websites like are a great way to find local events. Then, don’t just read the list of choices. Choose one a few months down the road so you have time to train, register and pay for it. This will make you accountable for actually following through. Want to generally increase your fitness level? Find a personal trainer–even your local YMCA has affordable options that can meet morning or night, evenings or weekends to accommodate busy schedules–and book a few sessions to get started. Like the theater? Try out for a play, even if it’s just to be part of the chorus. For any interest, there is an activity to match, and a group on in your area dedicated to that interest. All it takes is you saying yes instead of maybe.

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It may not be easy, this transition into yes and no. But it can change your life. When I was going through my divorce, I started coaching high school speech. Although my kids were initially upset about having to go to after-school-care while I was coaching, one day my son looked at me and said, “I’m glad you started doing speech because you laugh and smile a lot more now.” My kids have come to understand that a happy mom helps them to have a happy family, and they support me more in my undertakings. It is my hope that this year, more women will remember to make our own needs a priority over trying to please everyone, all the time. There’s no maybe about that.