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How I Learned to Start Saying No, So I Can Say Yes More

March 26, 2023

Early on in my husband’s career, I volunteered like it was my job. New to the base and new to the military life, I was eager to get connected and make friends. I vividly remember introducing myself at a spouses’ club meeting, “I’m new here and I really just want to make friends.” 


And that’s where it started


When asked to volunteer for a subcommittee, I jumped at the chance. Despite having a full-time job myself, I became a professional volunteer. I was a yes person. I’ve always been a yes person.

Over the years I’ve said yes to a variety of organizations, from spouses’ clubs to parent-teacher organizations, serving as a Key Spouse, helping nonprofits, and hosting charitable drives. 

But last year it hit me hard when someone asked me if I could go out to lunch. When I looked at my schedule, I saw more volunteer commitments than my actual job and struggled to find time for my friend.

That’s when I knew that I needed to start saying no, so that I could say yes to myself (and friends!) more. 


Taking inventory of my time


II really needed to dig deep and ask myself, “what kind of time do I have available?”

Not the time that I should be using for self-care, or the time between school drop-off and my first meeting of the day.

I’m talking about the larger blocks of time that aren’t filled with work and family obligations. These the times where I’m able to give my time freely. 



Taking time to respond


If someone asks me to volunteer for something, I don’t answer immediately. I might take a few days to think on it. I look at my schedule, I consider what kind of time the project might take up, and think about if the activity would make me happy to participate in. 

We’ve all had buyer’s remorse, right? The same can go for volunteering. It sounds fine, but the more you think about it, the more it might not be what you thought, or the scope might be bigger than you planned.

I’ve learned to take the time to get details and see if it’s something that fits into my lifestyle.  


Considered what brings me joy


I looked at current volunteer commitments and really asked myself which ones I enjoyed.

We grow and change, and while some of those commitments were still things I very much looked forward to, others now felt like chores and I had come to dread. 


Pulling back


Once I’d taken stock of what commitments now felt like chores, those were the ones that needed to go. I likely wasn’t doing my best with them because my heart wasn’t in it, and the organization might find someone better suited.

I also looked at what organizations valued my time. When an organization I was happy to serve with expected me to start taking time off to attend middle-of-the-workday meetings, I didn’t feel appreciated.

When asks became expectations, I knew that I had to set some boundaries. If I didn’t start taking my own time seriously and seeing it as valuable, how could I expect anyone else to?

I gave organizations and committees that I worked with notice that I’d be needing to pull back or stop volunteering with them altogether. Saying no doesn’t have to mean a complete no, either. Sometimes you can lessen your commitment or help sporadically.

Maybe it’s time for a new role. 


Proceeding with caution


Now when a volunteering opportunity presents itself, even if it’s one that I know will help me grow and is something I’d enjoy, I tread lightly. Well, I’m trying. It’s a work in progress. 

I’m learning to build in blocks of time to enjoy hobbies like hiking and quilting, time to read, time to learn a new language. I’m even blocking out open sections on my calendar so I can say yes later – blocks that will become day dates with my husband, self-care sessions, lunch dates, binge-watching marathons, shopping with my daughter, or maybe even volunteer time, if the opportunity is right.

After being a yes person my entire life, I’m learning that sometimes you have to first say NO, in order to be able to say yes later.

Now, who wants to do lunch?



*For more from Sheila, visit her on our Band of Bloggers page.




  • Sheila Rupp

    Sheila Rupp is originally from Michigan and is married to her high school sweetheart. She is a copy editor and writer with 20 years of experience. Like many military spouses, Sheila’s career has varied greatly over the years while staying within the communications field. Sheila has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, and a minor in professional writing from the University of New Mexico.  Sheila is a military spouse of 20 years. Having spent the first 17 years as an Air Force spouse, she is now a proud Space Force spouse after her spouse transitioned to the newest branch. In her free time, you’ll find Sheila on hiking trails, curled up with a good book, watching her daughter dance, or traveling the globe. Sheila is currently based in Los Angeles, California, where she lives with her husband, teenage daughter, and dog.


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The Days Are Long as a Milspouse

The Days Are Long as a Milspouse

If you’ve read any of my blog submissions on Mission Milspouse lately, you’ll likely see a pattern where I have been mostly writing about what I’ve learned being a military spouse for the past twenty years but in presented in slightly different ways. In addition to...

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