Even as my ten-year high school reunion looms, I'm still trying to get over some high school angst. No, it isn't about my hairstyle or why I liked Silverchair, but with saying no. I have no problem telling panhandlers or door-to-door solicitors no, but other matters are much more difficult. If work calls me on short notice to fill in or the band is asked to play a last minute gig, I'm torn. If I didn't have anything lined up for that time, I say yes. But what about when I already have plans? How important are those plans compared to what is being asked of me at the last minute?
The reasonable and understandable answer is to say "Sorry, I already have plans." No problem, right? Well, when I was in the high school band, nothing else could interfere with one's attendance to band practices. If you already had plans, you had to break them because band always came first. If you weren't there, everything would fall apart and a major guilt trip was coming your way. What a strong morale booster that was.
Add on top of this was attendance in general. If you missed a day at high school, it wasn't a huge deal, but it was very important to be there everyday. I had perfect attendance all throughout high school as I thankfully was never sick or had a family emergency. I just didn't want to be behind on schoolwork when I came back. In college, you were royally screwed if you missed a day. It didn't seem to matter if you were sick or had to go to a funeral on the day of a test. If you missed a test, your make-up exam was intentionally much harder than the exam everyone else took. In a roundabout way, the reasons for missing were all your fault. It was your fault you got sick or had to go to a funeral.
Five years post-college, I still have this feeling to always say yes. Saying no still doesn't feel like the best immediate option. At previous jobs, I would go in even under extreme circumstances like the roads were iced over or I had the flu. I would be chastised for missing or even considering missing. Why? Because I was convinced that normal, everyday operations would go completely haywire if I wasn't there. I didn't want to let the team down and I would never be forgiven for missing a day.
All along, I've heard people say, "You've got to do what you gotta do." But shortly after people say that, there's this insinuation that severe drawbacks are going to happen. This will make me feel guilty for doing something for myself and reconsider why I'm doing what I'm doing. I'd like to blame my old teachers, band directors and bosses for making me feel this way, but I should really put under a microscope why I let this train of thought run over me.
I have to constantly remind myself that in my current job and band, no guilt trips have come my way for missing. Especially on a freelancing basis, I work when I'm available, but I'm available most of the time. As important as this book is to me, I can put aside writing and editing a few hours later in the day. I can hold off on walking the dog for later in the evening. But when I have meetings and interviews already lined up on a day when the job calls and asks if I can fill-in, a part of me thinks that I have to break those previous engagements.
I'm starting to see a bigger picture here. I know I should not feel like a part of a train track. But still, I think about possible rearrangements if something comes up at the last minute. I'm pretty flexible, but when all my time is eaten up by last-minute matters, I wonder why I didn't say no. Is saying no really that bad or is this all in my head?