“No” Is a Complete Sentence

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For many people, the new year comes with all kinds of expectations of starting over, starting fresh, maybe even second chances. 

For some, it means choosing a word of the year. This word is supposed to guide us in accomplishing what we all want each year – to become a better version of ourselves, or at least try to keep us focused on the thing we’re trying to accomplish.

This is a big thing among female entrepreneurs, which is what fills my social newsfeed. So I watched as one by one, words were announced. Some came with beautiful graphics or long explanations about their chosen word. But my word was different. 

This year I cut right to the chase.

My word for 2020 is “no.”

Not “inspire” or “patience” or “persistence” or any other word. “No.”

This is a cautionary tale…

I burnt myself completely out in 2019… to a level of burnout I’ve never experienced. From at least October to December 13, the day I officially crashed, I was on the GO every day. And not just a little bit.

I won’t bore you with the details, but I run three small businesses and a nonprofit. During the aforementioned time period, all four of those avenues, plus my social and philanthropic involvement, were all in overdrive. 

You see, I have this desire to help EVERYONE and to do EVERYTHING. I can hardly finish one project before I’m saying yes to something else.

This comes at a high price. A price to my health and well-being, a price to my children, a price to my husband, my friends, and even the people I am trying to help. Because when you get to the point that you are so depleted, you can’t help anyone.

I turned 43 with little to no fanfare in December. That was followed by December 10, my twin daughters’ birthday. After that was December 12, the anniversary marker of the death of one of my sweet babies.  

And on December 13 I succumbed hard to the flu. It’s mid-January now and I’m still not completely healed. I’m exhausted physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

And I feel completely alone. 

As New Year’s Day came upon us, I made a pledge that in 2020 I would learn to say, “No.”

I don’t know that I’ll make it to January 1, 2021 if I don’t.

I don’t believe this is a unique problem to me. As mothers, we often take on everyone else’s burdens, suck it up, and keep pressing forward. That’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re the fixers, the do-ers, the magical moment makers.

In February of 2019, I learned my aunt was diagnosed with uterine cancer at 58 years old. She was supposed to have laparoscopic surgery in March, which turned into a massive surgery to remove all of her ‘plumbing’ in order to remove some of the cancer.

I made the best “yes” decision in 2019, which was to spend the last weekend of March with her, helping her around her house as she recovered from surgery. I am so grateful for that weekend because a month later, we would learn the cancer spread, and by July she was so weak she could not leave her bed. We gathered the family and had a celebration of life, and two weeks later, she was gone.

During the weekend we spent together, we spent hours talking about life and motherhood and being wives. Her husband had passed away unexpectedly 10 years earlier. She, as a wiser, more experienced woman, shared some incredible nuggets of wisdom with me.

“It’s not that complicated, Lex. Men need to feel loved and appreciated. I wish I’d taken the time to make my husband feel more like a rock star, and worried less about the little stuff. Children grow quickly. I know you’ve heard this, but they do. Soak it all in, because you WILL miss this.”

Her eyes told me what her words didn’t. SLOW DOWN. Take time. The other stuff can wait.

I heard her, and I felt her words, but so many things were already set in motion, and before I knew it, I was on a train speeding down a massive hill with no breaks. Until the train just straight up derailed.

By the time December 13, 2019 arrived, I could not even function. I had big plans for Christmas break with my children – bucket lists and activities and fun family memories. But I was so ill and worn down, I spent the majority of two weeks in bed, alone.

When I finally started to feel a little better, I made a decision.

I decided to say “no” in 2020. “No” to extra work from clients. “No” to taking on projects I don’t love. I was asked to continue as Service Chair for my sorority alumnae organization, a role I have cherished for years, and I said “no.” I’ve said “no” to four book submissions, “no” to a conference I thought I really wanted to go to in April, and the list goes on.

It’s getting easier and it’s feeling better.

Part two of saying “no” is saying “yes” to me. From the outside, I probably look a little nuts. I bought a Bongo (yes, an actual little bongo drum!), a singing bowl, a gong, a rain stick, and four books on energy healing.

Last summer, at a Healing Retreat for Grieving Mothers, we experienced what is called a Sound Bath. It was both the strangest thing and the most wonderful thing I’ve ever experienced. Your body is literally impacted by the vibrations of sound. So, I have decided to learn as much as I can about this. And when I’m having a rough or stressful moment, I literally start banging on my bongo or playing my singing bowl. Within less than 30 seconds, I feel better. 

And yes, I too hear the lyrics… “I don’t wanna work, I just wanna bang on the drum all day…” Mamas – there was something TO this!

I don’t want to end 2020 as depleted as I’ve started it. I know I’m not the only mama out there running herself ragged to do all the things. 

If you haven’t hit your wall yet, it may be coming. So take time for YOU. Take a girls weekend from time to time. Do something that fills YOUR cup. Go check out wellness centers (I’m going for the first time to Forest Acres Well Care to sit in a salt room to boost my immune system.). Start exercising. Eat better. Laugh more.

Say NO. It’s a complete sentence that may just save your life.

If you need me, I’ll be banging on my bongo, smiling as my kids come to join me to play along.

How do you say “no” to projects and “yes” to yourself? Share your tips below!

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Alexa Bigwarfe is a mother to 3 wildlings who keep her on her toes. She is an advocate, activist, speaker, author & author coach, publisher, and podcaster. Her writing career began after her infant daughter passed away at 2 days old and she turned to writing for healing. Since then, she has used her writing platform for advocacy and activism to support mothers, children, and marginalized voices. She began a nonprofit, Sunshine After the Storm, to provide support, care, healing retreats, and grief recovery to mothers in their most difficult time. She is the creator and co-host of the Lose the Cape podcast, which features moms working to make a difference in their children's lives and has co-authored and published four volumes under the Lose the Cape brand. Her primary business is Write|Publish|Sell, a company dedicated to shepherding authors through the massive process of writing and publishing their books like a pro. She owns her own publishing house, Kat Biggie Press, and a children's book publishing company, Purple Butterfly Press - both dedicated to bringing stories of hope, inspiration, encouragement, and girl-power to the world. Learn more at alexabigwarfe.com.

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