Monday, November 8, 2010

The Art of Saying No (and Not Freaking Out About It)

So I promised in my About Me section, dear reader, that this year I would work on going outside my comfort zone and then reporting on it. Today I declined a job, and I thought it was going to make me throw up. Allow me to explain...

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine mentioned a holiday job opportunity at the clothing store where he has worked for the past four years or so. To be perfectly honest, the job itself didn't excite me, not least of all because this friend has been complaining to me about his job for almost the entire length of his employ there. What's more, the job involved selling, and I am too much of an introvert to be comfortable with that. Okay, I know what you might be thinking. You're either thinking, "You?! An introvert?", to which I would respond, yes, I just hide it well. Or you're thinking, "But you just said that you would try to go outside your comfort zone. What gives?" To this later query of yours, dear reader, I must admit you have a point. But I will say that turning down this job might have caused me more discomfort in two days than two months' worth of selling would have.

I have never been one to enjoy turning people down. I want people to be happy (unlike all you sadists reading my blog), so when my friend mentioned the job and told me how he sold me to his boss and talked about how much fun it would be to work there together I thought, well, at least he might not hate it so much if I'm there. You see the logical fallacy there? Two people hating a job together is unlikely to make either of them hate it very much less. Yet he was so enthusiastic, and he was practically guaranteeing me that I'd get the job, so I met with the manager and filled out an application. Then I waited a couple weeks.

This past Monday, the manager called me back, and I told him I'd like to sit down to talk about hours, duties, pay, etc. Very professional. We did, and I left the meeting with very mixed feelings. I haven't mentioned this except in passing, but I'm working mornings at my parents' promotional products company. My accepting this second job would mean that I'd be working a full 40 hours a week, which is all well and good, but let me explain how these hours would break down:

20 hours/week = Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to noon, parents' office
Other 20 hours/week = a few days Monday through Friday + Sunday, 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. AND/OR Saturday starting at 9 a.m. AND Black Friday, Dec. 7, 14, and 26

Basically, I could set myself up to work 14 hours in one day, or give up my weekends, and definitely give up lots of free time during the holidays when my friends and family come visiting. Plus, I realized, I am currently trying to apply to grad school and study for a GRE Subject Test, but that's a topic for another post. You can probably see how this is not an ideal situation for me.

Ok, so I met with the guy on Monday, pretty much told him I was ready to start working, and made plans to come in Thursday or Friday to fill out the paperwork. On Wednesday, I realized I really really REALLY did not want the job, nor did I have to take it. This initial realization was quite a relief. Then came the nausea.

Telling Jerry the store manager was scary enough, but even scarier, I also had to tell the friend that had told me about the job, made a pretty big deal about us working together, and really influenced Jerry to hire me. I hated to let him down, and all through lunch that day my hands shook and my stomach ached, while I tried to play it cool and find a way to bring up the subject. You can probably imagine how this lunch went: nervous laughing, furtive looking away, and an acute distaste for the spinach and bacon salad staring up at me from an over-sized diner plate. The churning in the pit of my stomach wouldn't stop. I was sure that if I didn't throw up, I would just pass out. This may sound a bit hyperbolic, but it's true; such is my fear of letting people down.

After an hour of this madness, we finally got up to go. It was the moment of truth. As we were leaving the restaurant, my friend said, in an off-hand way, "I don't want to work." There was my chance. In one of the best transitions ever, I said, "Oh yeah, speaking of not wanting to work, I REALLY don't want to work at [insert name of men's store here]." Then I waited for the deluge, certain he'd be crushed or demand an explanation.

His response: "Haha, yeah, I don't blame you." And that was that. The relief was unbelievable.

Now all I had to do was drive over to that men's store and tell Jerry the manager. One problem: he wasn't there and wouldn't be in until the next morning, which, you can probably guess, meant another 24 hours of stress for me. I just had to keep telling myself over and over that I didn't care if Jerry's feelings were hurt. I didn't even know Jerry. If I let him down, so be it.

I spent the rest of that day rehearsing what I would say. It involved thanking him for offering me the job and being so kind as to sit down and talk with me about it, but after sleeping on it, I realized that it wouldn't be a good fit. I practiced this little speech constantly, making sure to add good excuses as to why I didn't want the extra stress. Then I rehearsed all the possible ways he could react and how I would respond to his reactions. Here is a partial list of what I expected could happen:
Trying to sell me on the job (he is a top salesman of men's suits, after all)
Striking me <~ in the event of this one, I planned my escape from the store and chose which of the adjacent stores I would run to for help

These all seem like viable options, right? Well, to make a long story short (too late), I went to that store. He was there, thank goodness, but with a customer, so I waited for twenty minutes, anxiety mounting. I passed the time by doodling pictures of fruit and trying not to shake too much. I started to feel dizzy and feverish before he was finished but I took a few deep breaths and steadied myself. When he finally came over to me, I asked if we could go sit down, not wanting to make a scene in the middle of the store. It's like I was breaking up with him: "Jerry, it's not you, it's me." "I think we should see other regional sales managers." "You're suffocating me."

Anyway, I sat down and did the speech I had practiced. I performed it flawlessly, and Jerry reacted immediately.

He hit me.

No, no, I'm kidding. That would have made such a good story, though. No, actually, not only was he completely fine with it, but he also offered me a job for anytime in the future that I might decide I want it. The relief I've felt since that afternoon I can't quite describe without resorting to cliche.

But now, as I reach the end of my tale, I have to wonder why I spent so much time agonizing over this. Who did it benefit? Certainly not me. Jerry and Jesse definitely did spend so much time worrying about it. In the end, what did I achieve through anxiety? The truth is, stress gains you nothing, but as easy as it is to say that, in practice, you forget. It's like your body revolts and you have no choice but to be nauseated and shaky and sweaty until you confront the thing that's caused you all this pain.

I think it boils down to a theory I've been developing for myself in the past few months. As this story has illustrated, I tend to put other people's feelings (or what I perceive their feelings to be) before my own mental health. So my new personal philosophy is kind of a take on the Eleanor Roosevelt quote "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent": "You are not responsible for other people's emotions." Everyone has a right to their feelings. They have a right to react to things however they want. But that doesn't mean you should drive yourself crazy worrying about how they are going to feel. Sure, be understanding of those feelings, don't intentionally hurt people's feelings, help them feel better if you want, but don't take their emotions on yourself. You're not Jesus. You don't have to be the sacrificial lamb because you want everyone to be happy. Happiness comes from within, and nothing you do can make another person happy if they don't want to be. Similarly, and more pertinently, don't assume people are going to be mad at you for being honest, and if in the end they are, who cares? You did the best you could. You weren't trying to hurt their feelings, and when they're ready, they can build a bridge and get over it.

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