Four Simple Words

I was having tea with a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile so we had a lot of things to catch up on. In the course of our conversation, I asked her a question that went something like this:

“So why did you decide not to _____?”

Her answer went something like this:

“Well, because . . .

You see, I . . .

I decided to . . .”


“I don’t want to.”

You know that scene in the first movie of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, when Pippin causes the bucket to fall down the well in the Mines of Moria? And they all stand there listening to it tumble down, down, ever deeper down? And finally, after an excruciatingly long time, the bucket lands? Which unleashes another huge something they have to flee?

That’s what happened to me.

Only what was triggered deep inside me was a smile.

“I don’t want to.”

It almost sounds childish, doesn’t it, depending on the way you say it?

And it is–childishly simple in its honesty.

I don’t want to.

Imagine if we made all of our decisions that way?

I’m not talking about those daily tasks that are part of being alive–the cleaning, the shopping, the cooking–although imagine how much happier we’d all be if we divvied things up according to interest.

Annie: I love doing laundry. It’s so satisfying to take those heaps of dirty clothes and transform them into orderly piles in their baskets.

Billy: I feel that way about doing the dishes, but just can’t get motivated to do the laundry.

Cathy: Dishes! Aaargh! I hate them! If someone would do my dishes, I would gladly cook all the meals.

Donnie: Tell you what, I’ll plan the meals and do the shopping–I love my grocery store!–if Cathy will do the cooking and Billy will do the dishes.

Annie: Sure! And I’ll do the laundry right after we eat!

Sigh. Wouldn’t that be nice? Might pose a logistics problem or two but I prefer not to think about logic when I’m fantasizing.

And, as I said, I’m not talking about the daily round of life and parenting and making a living. I’m talking about all those extras that we’re faced with daily. The volunteering we are asked to do in our schools, churches, communities. The events we are asked to organize, the boards we are asked to sit on, the teams we are asked to coach.

Contrary to popular belief, the world is not going to end if you say ‘no.’

It’s true that there might not be enough people to get the job done if you don’t do it, but if it truly doesn’t speak to your heart are you really going to benefit anything or anyone by saying ‘yes’ and bringing your reluctance and resentment to the table?

And if there aren’t enough people who truly want to say ‘yes’ to a project then maybe the project shouldn’t go ahead. Even if it is a great idea. Even if it’s always been done and it would be a pity to let it disappear. Even if Little Johnny is really looking forward to it.

Chances are Little Johnny–along with everyone else–already has too much on his plate. A little unorganized playtime in the yard won’t hurt him. Probably wouldn’t hurt you to join him either.

Assuming you truly want to.

It would sure cut through a lot of angst (not to mention that crude word with the initials ‘b’ and ‘s’) as we try to come up with plausible excuses for not doing what has been requested of us. And that’s what they are–excuses–covering up the truth which is:

I don’t want to.

My friend repeated those four words several times in the course of our conversation about several different things she wasn’t going to do and every time the smile within me grew until I finally laughed out loud. It was just so delicious to hear her say it and mean it and for me to imagine saying those words the next time I was faced with a request that really didn’t appeal to me.

It’s not that my friend has become a lazy slug. Au contraire. She’s happily facilitating a class for her church and sitting on a national board. But she had to say ‘no’ to the things she didn’t want to do in order to have the time and energy and enthusiasm to do what she did want to do.

I don’t want to.

Go ahead, say it. Say it over and over and over again. Dance it! Sing it!

And once you’ve gotten real clear on all those things you don’t want to do,

Think about what you do want to do.

And do that.

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8 Responses to Four Simple Words

  1. What a great blog! I read it twice!! I’ve been trying to figure out my own “Return on Investment” on something I’m involved in. You’ve convinced me to remain true to what I truly enjoy and not spread myself too thin. Thanks!

  2. I really enjoyed reading this. I have such a hard time saying no, that I often volunteer before I’m asked, unless I stop myself, or someone else stops me. It’s imortant to know one’s own priorities and stick to them, including the things you want to do.

    • maxinespence says:

      Hey, Sheila – thanks for popping in. I’m glad this spoke to you. I know what you mean about volunteering before you’re even asked. I get excited about the possibilities with too many things – way more things than there is time for – so I’ve learned to sit on my hands and bite my tongue and sleep on it, sometimes for a couple of nights, until I’m sure it’s a good fit – for me AND my calendar.

  3. Yvonne says:

    That is so fantastic. And, believe it or not, I said that this morning. There has been an item on my “to do” list that I keep passing from day to day. Today I looked at it (4th day in a row) and said, “so why am I not doing this?” The answer was “I don’t want to.” I scratched it off the list.

  4. bevmiddleton says:

    No apology, no excuse. When we manage to do that, it does feel great to unashamedly do the things we choose to do.

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