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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Family

Mama Bear Moxie: The art of saying no

By Kristina Phelan For The Spokesman-Review

I have to admit NPR is one of my new favorite radio stations. I feel like I am really doing this whole “adulting” thing when I listen to their smart and thought-provoking segments. NPR definitely has a way of taking a story, that by all means would be normally a boring topic, and transforming it into something entirely enlightening.

I heard an NPR interview with Shonda Rhimes, creator and writer for some popular TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice” and “Scandal.” In her interview, she talked about her life growing up as an African-American in Chicago. Her stories were impactful, and I admire her work ethic and her appetite for writing. Rhimes said something in the interview that I have been pondering ever since:

“Saying ‘no’ is really saying ‘yes’ to yourself.”

I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I have said “yes” to something when I really didn’t want to do it. Call it my personality or my genes, but I like to do things. I wouldn’t call myself a people pleaser, because I really don’t care too much about what people think of me, but it is more of an inner struggle to always attain more, be more and do more. In the past decade, I have definitely come to realize that life has an ebb and flow sort of rhythm and that balance is key in keeping my sanity as a woman, wife and mother.

But her statement keeps coming back to me. As a substitute teacher, I get called here and there for jobs by a few different schools. I was asked to substitute on a day that I have blocked out on my schedule, a day that is just for me, and I knew that my chances of getting another free day for myself were slim. So, I said no. As soon as I did I thought about how that “no” was really a “yes” for me.

A “yes” for my mental health.

A “yes” to allowing some quiet in my life.

A “yes” to make myself a priority for once.

And the crazy thing is that I don’t feel bad about it. I am actually proud of myself that I was able to overcome this inner battle to “be all things to all people” and say “yes” to myself. Now, am I perfect at doing this? No, not at all. I did mull over the answer for about an hour. It was, and it will probably always be, a hard decision to allow yourself to put yourself first in life. Saying no to something from time to time isn’t bad. I would argue it is very needed in life. Saying no allows you to say yes to a very important person: you.

So when you feel that extra pull of anxiousness in your life and you have been asked to add just a little something more to your already busy schedule, I encourage you to say “yes” to yourself first by answering with a simple and polite no. You’ll be so glad you did.

Kristina Phelan is a former Spokane-area resident now living in Illinois who writes about family and faith. Contact her at or visit her website at

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