Jottings contributor Nancy Dunis is discovering she has more fun and free time when she says 'No.'

SUBMITTED PHOTO  - Nancy Dunis, right, and her friend Joan, enjoy a conversation and a free moment while attending an AAUW event this summer.

NO...N.....O. Only two letters. One syllable. Not a hard word to say. It's one of the very first words youngsters utter when learning to talk. If children can so easily say no, why do adults have such a difficult time saying it? Perhaps it is not in the saying of it but meaning it.

I had an epiphany about saying no over Fourth of July weekend. My housemate Joan had just arrived from Arizona to live with me for the summer and we were trying to decide what to do for the long weekend. Fighting traffic and people trying to go somewhere didn't really tickle my toes since I had just come off the busiest six months of my life and needed time to decompress. We decided we would eat hotdogs and watch the fireworks on television.

A friend of Joan's drove here with her and we wanted to show her the sights. From morning 'til night for three days we were on the go. We went to the Oregon Garden; the Floating Island Café on the Columbia River for a late lunch. We went to Dundee to visit a trailer park hotel that Joan had seen advertised on TV — in Arizona. We visited an olive farm where we sampled different kinds of olive oil and watched olives being pressed into oil. On the Fourth, Joan took Mary to the airport, leaving me to recuperate.

That's when the epiphany hit. I was jolted by the realization that I was going places and doing things I hadn't done in a while. I was having fun, and above all, I was laughing. I wasn't worrying about luncheons, getting a newsletter out, keeping the roses watered, getting the pamphlet for the historic rose garden finished in time for its grand debut, what I would write for my next Vault column, would the home tour be successful, would anyone visit the cemetery. My epiphany was twofold: I'd lost a lot of play time being stressed and responsible and I was not going back to that lifestyle. No way. Look what I'd missed: how little time I had to relax, enjoy my hobbies, my friends, sit and do nothing.

I verbalized my commitment to Joan about maintaining a more balanced lifestyle and not taking on so much. Now I just had to figure out how I was going to do this: Over Committers Anonymous? Glue my arms to my torso so they couldn't be raised. My solution came in four A's: Awareness, Acknowledgement, Assess and Ask.

Awareness, for me, was the first step. When my frustration started to overrule my sense of humor and normally upbeat nature, I knew something was off. My disposition changed. I was tired and snarky.

Second step, acknowledging that I was an over-committer. "Hi, my name is Nancy and I'm an over-committer." I had to write this down or state it verbally to someone.

Assessment of my priorities and goals was the third step. I knew I really wanted to get my book written, was passionate about being involved with historical projects and wanted to keep writing Vault stories. I want to do more public speaking and storytelling and maybe take an acting for non-actors class at Lakewood Center.

I also knew I didn't want to spend the remainder of my life — whatever time I have left — alone, so that meant seeking out activities that included men and women, not just women.

Keeping these priorities in mind, next came asking myself the hard questions. If someone approached me to do something, or I heard about a project that sounded interesting, I would ask myself these questions and then had to answer on paper.

Having to write the answer down made it real and gave me the emotional ammunition to say NO to the asker. Here are the questions I asked myself:

1. What are my priorities right now?

2. How does this project/activity align with these?

3. What specifically am I expected to do and for how long?

4. How would the project/experience contribute to my well-being personally, emotionally, educationally, professionally?

5. Is this in my best interest?

6. Am I passionate about this or doing it because no one else will?

7. Who else is involved and how well would I work with them? Would I enjoy working with them?

8. Is this a mixed environment meaning men and women?

9. What kind of support is there from the powers that be?

10. How much stress would be associated with the project?

11. On the fun-o-meter, where would I rank this project? One being red light, stop! Don't do it! And 10 being green light, go for it with all you've got.

So where am I now in my saying no learning curve? I keep my answers with me at all times, in my purse, so I can refer to them. I've said no to several projects already. I have learned not to respond right away to a request. Lastly, I remind myself that saying no means being able to say yes to something else.

Nancy Dunis is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center, and several other groups.

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