Lessons from My Expat Life: Say No

It’s ok to be a party-pooper.

For reals. After several months of saying yes to, legit, everything in my first expat experience in Seoul, I had to learn the next big lesson: saying no. (A lesson I continue to work on refining in my life four years later.)

Upon arriving in a new country and home, it’s of the utmost importance to start making connections, exploring, trying new foods, places, and experiences. And the way you do that is by saying yes. Yes, yes, YES! It’s a totally normal and super-fun part of the process. The downside is that at some point, saying yes to every opportunity (going out, traveling, socializing, joining a committee/book club/sports team, etc.), becomes utterly exhausting.

Our social (not to mention financial) gas tanks are finite; eventually, they require more discernment. 

The surprising part for me was how difficult it was to start saying no.

The biggest reason? FOMO. The struggle is real. Secondly, my behaviors up to that point had built expectations—expectations that would be consistently challenged as I began to be more picky with my yesses.

fomoLet’s have a real moment here.

I didn’t choose this lesson; it was forced upon me. I loved saying yes to everything, but at a certain point I found myself so depleted that I had to change what I was doing. That’s when I had to start thinking about which relationships were important to me to build, which activities fed me in some way—I had to select my yesses and learn to say no to everything else.

Let me tell you, that sh*% is tough. People hate hearing no. And eventually, when you say no enough times, you stop getting the invites, and your insides squeeze a little each time you hear about things you used to be a part of. Ugh.

But, here’s the thing: the relationships you put more time and energy into deepen; the activities you focus on become more meaningful; your bank account, social gas tank, and zen quotient grow.

Four years in, I go out infrequently (and still experience FOMO often). I usually go to bed early and get up with the sun (grandma status and proud). I spend time reading and writing and walking outside. I have dinners with dear friends. I drink when it’s special. I workout a LOT. I rarely get stressed about teaching because I have time and energy to stay caught up and balanced. I sometimes teach fitness classes. I build a lot of puzzles. I take weekend trips, but not too many. I am more aware of myself and my limits than I’ve ever been.

I say yes as often as I can (because I love my community here).

But, I still must frequently say no because I am keenly aware of my energy gas tank, and I know that driving that thing past ‘E’ takes about three times as long for me to recover from. I try to be clear and honest and gracious when I say no.

Saying no is definitely not as sparkly and joyful as saying yes. But it’s just as important.

As an expat, I’ve become practiced at and grateful for this lesson. Saying no ain’t for sissies.

And it’s ok to be a party-pooper.

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