The Guilt of No

Saying Maybe Delays the Guilt. Say NoI was a consumer behavior researcher, for a hot minute during my graduate school days. My research work dealt with the relationship between intention and behavior. One of the most important things I learned is that intention precedes behavior. Intention, for the most part, is within the full control of a person. Behavior is influenced by a series of factors that are not necessarily within the full control of a person.

Understanding and acknowledging the relationship between intention and behavior is an important part of living a guilt-free life, in my opinion. Sometimes we intend to help but we are unable to help. By understanding that which is beyond our control, we are able to let go of the guilt of being unable. I am reminded of this a lot when I volunteer on Mondays. This past Monday I was leading the shift when an older couple came in. Neither one of them could have been younger than 80. They were both almost frail but sort of full of life. They had stopped at the office to see how they could help.

There are many ways you can help a campaign. Not everyone is able to do everything. The older couple that came in were unable to help much because neither one of them couple could complete basic tasks on the computer. They both felt so guilty and kept apologizing. I kept trying to reassure them that their intention in coming to help was much more important than the fact they were unable to help. The fact that we are using a computerized system is beyond their control. As such, they shouldn’t feel guilty.

Personally, as much as I intend to help the campaign, I can’t do everything. Sometimes, I can’t do anything. Sometimes, I am unable to volunteer for more than 3 hours at a time. Sometimes, I feel guilty about leaving people behind and going home. I know this guilt is irrational. One of the things that I am working on is letting go of irrational guilt.

I have started spending a lot of time thinking about my intentions. What am I intending to do when I go to work in the morning? I intend to help customers have a wonderful shopping experience. However, if a customer asks me to answer a question and I am unable to answer it, does that mean I have failed for the day? No, it means that the question is beyond my volitional control as such I am unable to follow through on my intention.

By focusing on my intention, I have also been able to recognize my limitations. Yes, I would like to help. But, no, I am unable to help. I am learning how to say “no.” In the past, I would edge my bet and say “maybe.” Saying “maybe”was a way of not having to acknowledge my limitations. But “maybe” really was a way of delaying the guilt. Now, I am honest. I say “no.” By saying “no,” I set myself free and I am able to do the best of that which I can.


The Logical Point to Quit

I decided that I wanted more for my life so I decided to do something about it. Learn something new. Pick up some new skills, stretch myself in ways that I am afraid to. I signed up for classes on Coursera. I actually reached into my pocket, paid the class fees and started learning. 4 hours of learning later or so, I feel like I have reached the most logical point to give up. Fuck all my aspirations, hopes and dreams. Forget about my life time. In this moment when I feel uncomfortable, I have reached the logical point to give up. I could spend my whole life complaining about why I don’t feel satisfied instead of pushing myself to do something new.

I told my sister I was starting classes online. She told me she was afraid for me. I have  been diagnosed with chronical lack of follow through. I have no willpower. I hate being uncomfortable. I would rather do the same thing over and over again then be uncomfortable. Haven’t you heard? I ate the same plate of food from a restaurant for a week because I was afraid that I might hate everything else. Why ruin a mediocre life with adventures when I could be just okay? Just okay paying my bills, just okay intellectual simulation, just okay lifestyle. I could tell my mother every phone call that I am grateful for the just okay life. Alihamdulilahi for the just okay.

I think it is probably a sin to confuse complacency with gratitude. A very thin line it is but there comes a point when saying “I am grateful for what I have” becomes a sin because you are refusing to push yourself just further. I think I have reached the logical point to quit just okay. I am done. I am going to put on my big girl pants and get to work.

This is one of the hardest things I will probably do. This is probably the most rewarding thing I will probably do. I feel like at 29, I am ready to let go of my inhibitions and become more than just okay. I want to see in myself what my mother, father, sister, mentors and friends see in me. I want to be more than just okay.

I’m Strong. I’m Beautiful.

Yoga on rocks
I’m beautiful. I ‘m strong.

And halfway through the challenge, she decided that it was the best time to learn the half-moon. The half-moon is a standing split almost. It requires balancing on one leg and one hand while the other limbs hover in the air. It requires a lot of integrity and focus. It requires self-awareness. It requires confidence. In that moment, when I kept falling out of my posture, I was not sure I had what it took to maintain a half-moon for a full breathe. So I paused the video and went into the child pose.

The child pose has always been one of my favorite poses in yoga. It brings me back to earth. I have started using the child pose a place of meditation when I feel lost during my practice. When I feel like I can’t, I tell myself I can. I am beautiful. I am strong. I can do this. I chant this continuously for what seems like hours within a minute. Sometimes, I feel myself crying. I will myself not to give up on my dreams, not to give-up on my body, not to give up on my soul. In that moment while I go through this self affirmation, I rediscover my commitment to life, to living.

As I write this, I am half-way through a 30 day challenge that I am doing with a yogi callled Adriene on Youtube. (If you are interested in learning about her, click here). One of the things that Adriene says that connects with me is that showing up is often the hardest part of any practice. This has been so true for me in the past 15 days. I have been busy with work and life but I am constantly creating space because it is something I believe in. I believe that is important to create space for myself and meditate through movement. It is one of the reasons why I explore various options for exercising.

Self-affirmation is something that I use in my daily practice. It is what fuels my runs. It is what fuels me when I am lifting. It is what compels me to make the right choices. After going through my chant today half-way through the practice with Adriene, I was able to move and breathe into the half-moon pose. It was not easy but I connected back with my body and I was able to achieve the shapes. It is the victories in moments like this that make me realize that I can. I should. I will…keep chasing impossible.


Me and My Mother’s Daughter

And the speaker, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, says in this TED speech that “These women lived in the ‘and.’ You could be fierce and feminine.” As I listened to this TED talk about a band of female soldiers who served on the frontline of Afghanistan even as there was a ban of female soldiers on the frontline, I thought about the many ways women have to live a dichotomous lives. Women live in the ‘and’ everyday in the choices that we make. Sometimes the ‘and’ is a function of cultural of expectations of what womanhood is. To be soft AND firm. To elegant AND strong. To be quiet AND heard. To navigate a tightrope between womanhood and the desires to be more than the prescribed bounds of woamnhood.

For me, the ‘and’ is something that I have struggled with all my life. I was thinking back to my teenage years earlier today before watching this TED talk. One of the things I am trying to come to terms with is  the abuse that I inflicted on my body via an eating disorder. Surviving an eating disorder is something that has shaped my view of my self, body and my place within the world. I have come to realize that there are times when I try to make myself smaller because I feel ashamed to take up space. When I was in secondary school in Lagos, I remember that one of the pleasures of having an eating disorder was the eating less. Being less at something gave me lots of pride. The look of surprise from classmates when they realized I was eating just a small portion of food. The ability to be more with less. The surprising part of the less obsession was I couldn’t see myself shrinking. Even in my memories of myself in that phase, I still see myself as being large. It is only when I see pictures of myself that I realize that I was shrinking.

This many years later, I can say that I am past the worst of my eating disorder. I think of myself in the terms of a drug addict. I am always going to be in recovery. It is this acknowledgement of my continuous struggle with my body  that allows me to be conscious of myself. I am able to look at my approach to life and reel myself in when I am about to make crazy extreme decisions. In the past decade, I have been unable to maintain a stable weight. I have been big and I have been small. I am, and I have been, on a journey to understand what it means to exist within my body.

I am learning that it is possible to be a lot of things in one body. I can be fat and graceful. I can be skinny and love food. I can be sad and happy. The sadness and the happiness is one that took me a long time to learn. I can be strong and I can be weak. I am somewhere in the spectrum of being an introvert and an extrovert although I identify more with being an introvert. Wanting a different life that my mother imagined for me does not make me less of my mother’s daughter. I can be some of who she wants me to be and I can be somewhat different that she imagined I would be.

I can be pure AND own my sexuality. One of the things I struggled with through my early adulthood was that idea that it was okay to be desired and to desire others. I was one of those girls who reached puberty really early physically but mentally I was still a child. Having older men lust openly after my body and make insinuating comments to me made me feel ashamed. In a lot of ways, I wanted to shrink and disappear. Also growing up in a society in which women who appeared to be sexual desirable where considered cheap and tainted made me feel ashamed of my body. I hid myself from the rites of adulthood by being oblivious to appropriate advances and making myself unavailable for the dating rites.

When I started choosing to live in the ‘and’, I gave myself permission to live a life that is authentic. This is why I relate to those soldiers’ lives. In the story that Ms. Lemmon tells, there runs a line of authenticity. A line where being a soldier on the frontline does not mean giving up the feminine. By occupying a space that is considered masculine in a way that celebrates the ‘and’ these women where able to create authentic roles for themselves and many other young women.

In what ways are you living in the ‘and’? Let me know in the comment section.