The one word all women should use more? NO!

Daily Mail - - Femailmaga­zine - by Miel de Bot­ton

OPen­InG a text from a friend re­cently, in which she asked if we could post­pone our im­mi­nent lunch date by a cou­ple of days, my heart sank.

I’d ar­ranged a hec­tic week around meet­ing up — reschedul­ing now would make an ab­so­lute mess of things.

I turned to my diary, look­ing at who and what I could move. As it dawned on me just how dif­fi­cult this was go­ing to be, I felt my heart race and no­ticed I was hold­ing my breath — two sure signs my stress lev­els were be­gin­ning to rise.

So I took a deep breath, gen­tly shook my head and calmly said, out loud, ‘no’.

Be­fore I had the chance to change my mind, I wrote the same thing — with less brevity, of course — in a re­ply to my pal. Pleas­antly, I ex­plained her sug­ges­tion wasn’t an op­tion and we’d need to can­cel. Of course, I then spent the next ten min­utes beat­ing my­self up, won­der­ing whether I should have been more ac­com­mo­dat­ing.

We all lead busy lives — per­haps my re­but­tal had made things really dif­fi­cult for her. What kind of friend did that make me?

Fi­nally, my phone pinged with her re­ply. It was fine to keep things as they were, she’d writ­ten, her tone warm. We went on to share a lovely lunch when I wasn’t too fraz­zled to en­joy it. Phew.

Hon­estly, can you think of any other word in the fe­male lex­i­con that has the power to throw us into such guilt-rid­den tur­moil as ‘ no’? I cer­tainly can’t. It’s such a tiny word and yet, as women, we baulk at say­ing it no mat­ter how necessary it might be at times.

I used to be a case in point, say­ing yes to ev­ery­thing, and felt per­ma­nently and hor­ri­bly stretched as a re­sult.

When my son and daugh­ter, now teenagers, were small I helped out with end­less chil­drelated events I didn’t have time for. God for­bid any­one think I was a lady who lunched.


no mat­ter how ex­hausted I felt in the evening, if a friend asked me over for din­ner or to join them at a con­cert or the theatre, I’d ac­cept rather than feel like I’d let them down.

My work as a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist of­ten left me feel­ing over­com­mit­ted. While at home, my chil­dren’s wants and needs au­to­mat­i­cally came be­fore my own.

And all for the want of a sim­ple, mono­syl­labic word that al­ways stuck in my throat. Sound fa­mil­iar? I think most women lead­ing stretched lives can re­late to what I’m say­ing here, on many lev­els.

First, there’s the guilt that of­ten goes hand in hand with say­ing ‘no’, be­cause we de­fine our­selves by how we ap­pear to oth­ers.

We’re de­ter­mined to be the best kind of friend, con­sci­en­tious em­ployee, de­voted wife, fan­tas­tic par­ent and dot­ing child. So we con­vince our­selves that de­clin­ing any re­quest from a sig­nif­i­cant other equates to fail­ing them.

Mean­while, we live in such a ridicu­lously fast-paced world that we’ve be­come de­sen­si­tized to some of the crazy things we’re say­ing ‘yes’ to. I know a woman who com­mutes to Lon­don from France. She works in the City all week and re­turns to her hus­band and chil­dren at week­ends. It could have worked had she been able to stick with the orig­i­nal ar­range­ment agreed with her boss — that she’d work just three days a week.

But her in­abil­ity to say ‘no’ when she was asked to do a lit­tle more here, an ex­tra thing there, means she now rou­tinely spends five days a week in the of­fice. Her fam­ily life is the ter­ri­ble price she’s paying for her ret­i­cence.

We can’t even say no to our mo­biles: they ping con­stantly while we let them make ob­scene de­mands on our at­ten­tion.

We run from one thing to an­other, never stop­ping long enough to ap­pre­ci­ate how mis­er­able all this fren­zied ac­tiv­ity is mak­ing us. I have friends who com­plain of per­ma­nent ex­haus­tion — one was up at mid­night last week ic­ing cakes for her son’s school bake sale. ‘I’ve been so busy at work,’ she com­plained, ‘I com­pletely for­got I’d agreed to make them.’ How she wished she’d just said ‘no’ in the first place.

Ten years ago, I could have found my­self in a sim­i­lar po­si­tion. But these days I’m that mum — the one grudg­ingly ad­mired for say­ing ‘sorry, I can’t’ when asked to join yet an­other school com­mit­tee.

When I re­ceive a so­cial in­vi­ta­tion that will de­prive me of sleep, I po­litely de­cline. When I agree to some­thing, I al­ways con­sider first how it fits with ev­ery­thing else.

I’ve been on a mis­sion to say ‘no’ more of­ten for al­most two decades. But it can still end up putting me in a spin, as my open­ing anec­dote shows. I sup­pose I’m a work in progress.

As with most de­ter­mi­na­tions to change, my own epiphany came from a deeply un­happy place.

First I lost my fa­ther, the fi­nan­cial pi­o­neer Gilbert de Bot­ton, to a heart at­tack in 2000. I was liv­ing in Paris with my now ex-hus­band, An­gus Ayns­ley, and we were about to move to Lon­don with our el­dest child — Zachary was just one at the time. My step­mother called at three in the morn­ing on the day we were fly­ing to Lon­don. She told me that my dad had died. Imag­ine try­ing to come to terms with such loss in an un­fa­mil­iar new home while em­bark­ing on a new life. I kept my­self ridicu­lously busy in a sub­con­scious at­tempt to avoid the dread­ful pain of loss — and the word ‘no’ slipped out of my ver­nac­u­lar. But I couldn’t sleep, and ev­ery time I paused to catch my breath I’d panic. Thank­fully, as is rou­tine for psy­chother­a­pists, I was in ther­apy my­self — it was there that I re­alised I’d never come to terms with my grief if I didn’t stand still long enough to feel it.


with my fa­ther gone, so too was the strong­est role model I’d ever known. Dad was a very suc­cess­ful man, who spoke nine lan­guages and started each day at 5am. He ex­pected great things from his chil­dren, too.

We’d obliged: my brother, Alain de Bot­ton, is a renowned philoso­pher; I stud­ied law at Ox­ford and clin­i­cal psy­chol­ogy in Paris, while also get­ting in­volved in art.

Dad’s pass­ing set my whole world off- kil­ter. Sud­denly, I started look­ing at my hus­band in a new light. Hav­ing been drawn to An­gus per­haps be­cause he was very dif­fer­ent to my fa­ther — more light-hearted, he had never felt the need to push me — I be­gan to think I needed to be with some­one more like Dad.

Slowly, a dis­tance grew be­tween us, and over the next decade my mar­riage be­gan to break down. At the same time I was work­ing with fam­i­lies as a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist, which was re­ward­ing but emo­tion­ally ex­haust­ing.

Some­thing had to give — and that was my health. I lost my zest for life; I was tired all the time yet strug­gled to sleep. It was time to start say­ing ‘no’ to the life I had, so I could build a new one. First I quit my job; then, shortly after my 40th birth­day, I said an ex­tremely sad farewell to my mar­riage. Thank­fully An­gus and I re­main good friends — by then we had two beau­ti­ful chil­dren to­gether, Zachary, now 19, and Talia, 15.

Mean­while, I started tak­ing own­er­ship of the word ‘no’.

I be­gan to see that say­ing ‘no’ isn’t sim­ply a case of re­fus­ing to do things. It can be more pro­found than that — a way of learning not to worry about the things you can’t change; say­ing ‘no’ to the re­spon­si­bil­ity we can feel for the woes of the world around us.

I say that as a phi­lan­thropist and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, who is well known to all man­ner of char­i­ties and re­ceives many re­quests for help. Imag­ine how hard it is to say ‘no’ to a good cause.

I’ve learned that I only have so much of my­self to give, be­fore the cost to me be­comes too much.

Cre­at­ing bet­ter bound­aries has changed my life for the bet­ter, al­low­ing me to say ‘yes’ to things that are truly en­rich­ing — one of which has been mak­ing a dra­matic ca­reer change by be­com­ing a pro­fes­sional singer-song­writer.

I met mu­sic pro­ducer Andy Wright in 2014 and when he sug­gested we work to­gether, I didn’t hes­i­tate to say yes. now I’m re­leas­ing my se­cond al­bum and about to tour with Wet Wet Wet.

It’s such a thrill — and I don’t think any of it would have hap­pened if I hadn’t found a way to say ‘no’ to the things that drained my en­ergy, rather than fu­elled it.

The ti­tle of one song on my new al­bum is ‘Yes!’ and the cho­rus sums up much of what I feel now. ‘Yes, I am con­tented in the si­lence. Fi­nally. It is Beau­ti­ful. And life is less than be­fore. Yet so much more.’

Miel de Bot­ton’s al­bum, sur­ren­der to the Feel­ing, is re­leased on Fri­day and is avail­able for down­load at www.miel­mu­

Pic­ture: GETTY

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