Saying No to Save Yourself

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What would be the hardest thing for you to give up?

I recently had to give up the delusion that I could be everything for everyone.

I wear many hats. In addition to being a phenomenal romance author, I am a freelance writer, contributing to multiple platforms. I am also a terrific wife (my husband is a lucky man), mother of six , homeschooler, content editor and writing coach. A lot of stuff, right? Well, those are the things left after I did some soul searching and decided I was doing way too much.

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The last few years went by in a blur of obligations. My sense of duty to education and social awareness made it difficult for me to say no to anything. I embraced a deep feeling that I was what people needed for every endeavor. I had my quill dipped in numerous writing projects, including writing books, articles and co-editing two anthologies. I also travelled the country as an anti-racism educator, public speaker, presenter and interviewer. I had to manage everything along with homeschooling and teaching history online at a higher education institution.

I almost completely fell apart. Almost? Who am I kidding? I did fall apart. I became sicker, but that did not stop me. I kept going until everything came crashing in on me one long, exhausting weekend. I had packed the car with my three youngest for a drive to Washington DC, where I was presenting a paper at a national conference. One of my editors learned about my travels and asked me to also cover a national Muslim conference for their publication. I agreed and wedged conference attendance in with my presentation and taking my kids to museums for school.

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I just knew I had it in the bag. I would get everything done, wow people at my presentation, write the list of articles my editor requested and submit to other online platforms. I did get everything done but not without a major impact on my health. Papa Bear got ill. We ended up taking him to the ER multiple times and switching hotels. DC traffic was not kind. I got lost over and over, one time at 3 am looking for an all-night pharmacy. By the end of the four-day ordeal, I drove home with my husband curled in a ball of pain next to me, worn out kids sleeping in the back seat and my legs swollen twice their size. I did an amazing job at the conference and sent all my articles, but at what cost?

Everything hurt. I stared down the New Jersey Turnpike wondering how was going to take my use brain to teach my next workshop and class. I realized I was killing myself trying to do everything I aspired to for years. I realized that I had spent many years saying yes to people and telling my body and mind no. I knew that needed to change the trajectory of my life—while I still had one—but I struggled with how to do it.

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I didn’t know what should go. All of it was important to me. Weeks after the DC torture, I sat in the middle of the beautiful Ford Foundation building in Manhattan. I had just impressed a room full of multi-million dollar fund managers. It was the pinnacle of where I wanted to be as an educator and anti-racism advocate. It was also the height of my pain and stress. Everything hurt and my spirit was deflated. Writing workshop content and articles made it all a chore. My creativity suffered. I had to make a choice. I chose me.

I typed “I quit” in a text message and hit send.

I canceled all speaking engagements, stopped teaching at the college and trimmed down article submissions.

We all need to say no sometimes. It took a while for the nagging feeling that I had made the biggest mistake of my to fade. I got to work reinventing my career and placement as an educator, advocate and writer. Things are still not totally on balance, but at least I saved myself from working into an early grave.

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