KNOWING WHEN TO SAY “NO”

August 9, 2018

As a kid growing up in an Italian-American family and attending Catholic school, the word “no” was not an option.

 

I had to do what I was told; and there was no such thing as questioning authority.

 

At home, I had a triple threat – my mother, my aunt and my grandmother.  They were like hawks.  I couldn’t get away with anything.

 

First, my mother Gloria.

 

 

My mother was always there for us; but she was the consummate disciplinarian.  She would hit first and ask questions later (maybe).

 

There was one time I was playing outside; and my ball bounced into the street.  I was about five-years old; and I was not allowed to step into the street without an adult present.

 

As the ball rolled toward me, it stopped just shy of the curb.  I knew I couldn’t go into the street, so I decided to keep one foot on the sidewalk and use my other foot to step into the street just off the curb.

 

Of course, my mother was looking out the window at that very moment.

 

I heard the shrill call of my name coming from the window, CLAUDIA!!!

 

I froze as my mother came taring out of the house. I didn’t even have time to explain, as I was dragged into the house and then punished for being disobedient.

 

Second, was my Aunt Dolores.

 

 

She was completely devoted to her family; but she ran things like the military.

 

Her favorite way to discipline was with the infamous “wooden spoon” used by Italian mamas to punish their kids.

 

 

 

When my Aunt Dolores passed away, the only thing my cousin Mark wanted to remember his mother was that wooden spoon.

 

Today, I look back and think it’s funny.  What’s added to the funny is I’ve discovered there are tee shirts that say:

 

 

Third, was my grandmother, Rose.

 

 

Her family was everything to her; but she was as tough as nails. 

 

When my grandmother asked us to do something, there was no, “I’ll get to it later.”  If there was any sign of hesitation, she would take one step toward us.  That’s all it took for us to drop everything and do what she wanted.

 

Lastly, there was Catholic School.

 

 

When I reference my Catholic school days, I crack up using this picture.  It just says it all.

 

I learned early that if I got punished by the nuns, I didn’t tell my mother.  She felt that if the nuns punished me, I deserved it.  Then, she punished me on top of that.

 

I never told my parents about the time I was in the seventh grade and the boy sitting behind me stuck the point of his compass in my behind.

 

It hurt!

 

I got up and belted him.  The teacher, a priest on sabbatical from the seminary, called me up to the front of the room and whacked me across the face with a history book.

 

I wanted to scream NO!

 

LEARNING TO SAY NO

 

No is such a small word; but it’s very difficult to say it after growing up the way I did.

 

Is it any wonder I was an introvert?

 

I stuffed everything inside.  So many times, I wanted to say no; but couldn’t.  I felt I would be punished if I did.

 

I needed to:

 

 

This was not easy!

 

When I was in corporate, if my boss asked me to do something, I would stop what I was doing and take on the next assignment.  I allowed myself to become so overwhelmed.

 

Then one day, I found my voice.

 

I was going to school at night to get my M.B.A.  Three nights a week I needed to leave the office by 5:00 to get to my class on time.

 

The night I was scheduled to take my last final, my boss came into my office at 5:00 and asked me to do a project which was due for a meeting the next morning.  I told her, I had my final that night.

 

She just glared at me.

 

I told her we agreed that I could leave at 5:00 for my classes, and I told her couldn’t let my final go.

 

I asked, “What time is your meeting?”  She said, “10:00.”

 

All I could think about was my final exam and finishing up to get my M.B.A.

 

I grabbed my stuff and told her I would come in early the next morning to do the project.

 

As I left her standing in the dust, I had mixed emotions.  I needed to take my exam; but I was afraid I was going to get fired.

 

That night, I realized I had set a boundary.

 

 

I took my exam and finished my last class.  I went into work early the next morning and got the project done in time for my boss’s meeting.

 

To my surprise, I didn’t get fired.

 

This was an important lesson for me; but I soon realized that as I was setting up boundaries, they were coming out of a place of anger and frustration.

 

I guess that was the result of years of not understanding that it’s OK to say NO! 

 

I needed to ask the question…

 

 

The answer was no. 

 

I needed to learn what was right for me and set up those healthy boundaries.

 

This was most challenging with my mother.  No matter how many times I talked to her about what was acceptable and what was not, it was falling on deaf ears.

 

She needed to understand that I was an adult; and I could respect her without doing everything she wanted.  However, she needed to respect me too.

 

There finally came a time, when I just had to lay down the law.  It wasn’t pretty; but…

 

 

Setting healthy boundaries has given me the freedom to make decisions that respect others without compromising myself or my principles.

 

SAYING YES TO ME

 

It’s been a journey to learn to set boundaries and say NO to others; but it’s become easier the more I put it into practice.  I’ve learned I don’t have to explain myself and that…

 

    

 

I’ve also learned that before I could say YES to myself, I needed to say:

 

NO to a 22-year career in corporate America.

 

NO to being a people pleaser.

 

NO to doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.

 

NO to negative people in my life and letting them go.

 

Once, I was able to discover, one step at a time, what was right for me, I was able to say:

 

YES to following my lifelong dream of acting.

 

YES to opening myself up to new possibilities.

 

YES to finding my voice and having the courage to speak up.

 

YES to breaking the rules and realizing…it’s never too late to go after your dreams!

 

                                                               Claudia DiMartino

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Claudia DiMartino is a successful business woman turned actress and playwright. She took a risk and left corporate America.  She now shares her life's journey which helped her realize - it's never too late to go after your dreams.

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