It’s not so much about saying “no” to other people, she told me. It’s about understanding how to, once again, say yes to yourself.
Once upon a time I was 5, then 8 then 13. The world was my oyster, my playground and my classroom. I woke up each day with a resounding, brilliant YES in my head. Yes to fun. Yes to food. Yes to love. Yes to wonder. Yes to excitement. Yes to my thoughts, my impulses, my joy. Yes to it all.
Somewhere in my teens, I began to learn the way it all worked. Life was a giant negotiation; you could get what you wanted as long as you had the right thing to trade for it. Impeccable grades for a scholarship to the right school. Polite attention for a stamp on my forehead that said “She’s a good girl, she is deserving.” Size 4 jeans for the attention of the popular kids. Perfect performance to be played on the soccer field. A funny joke or witty reply to be spoken to. A willingness to get drunk to be invited to parties.
And as I aged, the negotiations continued. Sex for the illusion of love. Carefully crafted opinions for entry into the “right” circles. Silence for the grace of acceptance. A smile for the tip I was already owed.
I learned the lesson we oft teach; This world owes you nothing; you must earn everything you get.” This is at the heart of understanding that everything in life is a transaction, a negotiation, and if you refuse to negotiate your worth, your time, your money, your energy, yourself, then you will be given nothing and somehow fade into a grey mist of the unworthy like you never existed.
And so I negotiated it all away, until one day I woke up and forgot what it felt like to be happy. I couldn’t tell you what it felt like to do something for myself; I didn’t even know where to start. If you had sat me down and said, “the world is your oyster, go do what you please,” I would have clawed my way to the nearest computer to answer emails, organizer fundraisers, post a photo to Instagram, study for a test to make a grade, and solve somebody elses’ problems, because I could trade each of those things for someone to tell me I was worth something. Every morning at the sound of the alarm, I would roll over in bed and my thoughts would string together of all the things I needed to do that day; all things that I thought were for me, but were really just a part of the negotiated paradigm I was now owned by. Things I thought I chose for myself, began to feel like chores, and I just couldn’t understand why that was happening. I figured there must be something wrong with me because I could not understand how to be happy in this world.
Only now am I beginning to call bullshit on this whole system, understanding that just because it was what I was taught, what the vast majority of us are taught, doesn’t mean that it is the way we were meant to live, and that my unease for the past 25 years isn’t a sign something is wrong with me, it’s a sign that game I was playing was in the wrong.
It’s a slow road, this awakening to the idea that I am already worthy; I am not owed worth by the world, I just am it. Awakening to the idea that I am not what I can do for others, but I am what is already inside of me; a light, a soul, a breath. Awakening to the idea that my journey in this life is already set on a formidable track, and no matter what I do or don’t do, I will still go down it. The belief in this idea allows me immeasurable freedom to give a giant finger to my daily negotiations. And little by little, the things I do each day that were once a chore, become an opportunity, because I took back the “WHY” behind doing them.
This isn’t to say I screamed out a resounding “F*CK YOU” to the whole system and packed up to live off the land in an abandoned forest (although that sounds amazing, when can we leave?). This is to say that these moments of internally and deeply knowing my worth and self, come more frequently, and that my realm of possibility for my life includes the possibility of being “awake” more often than I am “asleep”. And let me tell you, in those moments of being awake, the petty worries and turmoil falls away, and life just a piece of lemon pie that could feed the soul forever.