Resolving to Say "NO" by Gail Small

A vignette by Gail Small, co-author of "Joyful Volunteering: Making a Difference." This one is called "NO" and is timely as we approach yet another new year!

NO by Gail Small

It was a warm winter day and I remember wearing a short-sleeved red checkered blouse with my favorite blue skirt. Suddenly though, I felt a chill and I froze.

It was at a community meeting of women. I was comfortable as we visited and shared stories. And then, it happened. The hostess handed us each a paper and pencil and asked us to write down our New Year's resolution.

My pencil wouldn't write. Those around me smiled and wrote non-stop. I knew my friend to my left was writing about the new diet she was going to go on the first of the year. My friend to the right had to be writing about making more money in her job, as that was always her primary focus. Someone across the room was chuckling out loud as she described the man of her dreams who she was determined to find in the coming year.

I was blank. Blank and confused. I thought about my everyday life. I am content. Sometimes I am really tired and often wish there were more minutes in a day. But, don't most of us think those things? I am happy in my relationships. I love my job and my family and friends. I work out and feel fit. I volunteer in the schools, in the community and for many organizations. I am always there when someone needs me for carpool, an emergency, or to run an errand. Wow! What to do?

Others were folding their resolutions in half once and then again. The crackly sound of the paper folding annoyed me as my page was still empty. Everyone smiled as they placed their well-chosen words into a basket. Then they discussed openly and happily how the new year would change them. "For the better" was the agreement by all and a toast was made with sparkling cider. I wanted to be in on the toast.

My face turning red to match my shirt, I knew I had to write something. This same group of women vowed to look at these resolutions at the same party, same place, same time... next year. So in a rush I wrote something down, folded it and folded it again, and put it in the basket.

"Say no." That was all I inscribed on my resolution.

That was the best resolution I have ever made. And, I kept it! I realized on that warm winter day that I had become too busy doing for everyone else. I believe in volunteering and reaching out to help others. That is a gift I love to give. However, listening to the giggles and busy chatter about other women's daily lives, I heard the word "No" in my mind. I realized that I had stopped reading books, watching my favorite shows on television, baking fresh bread, or sitting on the couch relaxing. I resolved that I could still give to others, lead my busy fulfilling life, and also save time for me.

Each woman left with a colorful sparkly hat to wear on New Year's Eve and a hug for happiness in the New Year. I left feeling heavy, and wondering what they would think of me in one year when the paper with my brief words was unfolded.

On the way home, enjoying the birds singing and observing the colorful trees lining the street, I realized that it didn't matter. What mattered was, for once, me taking care of me. I even said it out loud, "I need to take care of me!" I never told anyone this before, but that New Year's resolution began even before the hands on the clock ever got to midnight for the New Year.

When I got home, I brewed a cup of my favorite herbal tea, turned on the television, and turned on the answering machine.

I learned something that December day. Writing my resolution truly opened my eyes. I actually asked myself questions out loud: "Where had I been? What was I thinking?" I reflected back on being a child and always hearing my grandparents saying, "Life is too short." They are no longer here to know the impact they made on my most meaningful New Year's resolution. I never knew a New Year's resolution could work out and come true. Mine did, I think about it every year.

Quoted: Permission from Gail Small (Also appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Resolution)

JOYFUL VOLUNTEERING: Making a Difference  is a new book by Gail Small and Ninon de Vere De Rosa. To order send $15+ $5 postage to 2060-D Avenida de Los Arboles #590, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362. Connect with Gail for speaking engagements and more info at