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Rants and Wisdom



In Rants and Wisdom

By lthomas

You can do it! vs. Permission to say no!

On 05, Dec 2017 | In Rants and Wisdom | By lthomas

I have been disappointed with myself recently. No one else seems to feel this way, but I feel it nonetheless.

I have had a horrendous year. I suffered a traumatic leg injury and spent months in a wheelchair and in physical therapy. Then my son had to endure yet another neurosurgery, and follow-up surgeries, for a longstanding medical issue. (Bless Johns Hopkins Medicine and Hospital who have been taking care of him since 1992). With all this going on you would think that I would be OK if I did not accomplish as much this year.

But I’m not. Instead, I am disappointed in myself.

A bit of history here: As anyone who has read my “Rants and Wisdom” essays over the past year knows, I am a woman baby boomer architect. In the late 60s and early 70s, it was not terribly common for girls to decide to become architects. But I did, pushed a bit, no doubt, by my mom, a navy vet and full-time social worker with two masters degrees, and my dad, a civil engineer. The message to me growing up was: YOU CAN DO IT.



Yes you can.


So, with some serious wind at my back, I did. The whole bit. Early decision to a professional degree, graduation at 22. On to Boston to find my future.

You can do it!!


On to Baltimore for a less expensive life and licensure (back in the dark ages of the four-day, 40-hour, once a year exam done with drafting boards, no less). Passed on my first shot.

Oh yes, you can do it!!!


Marriage, children, start a business — Yes, you can do it!


But it is not easy. Nope, not at all. And if anyone tells you it is, they are lying. Still, if the going gets tough, stiff upper lip, because, “Yes you can……”

So as I wrap up this disastrous year of significant physical and emotional traumas I am trying to do the most unnatural thing imaginable: give myself permission to say no. It is an epic battle for me, a real Forman vs. Ali.


Hustle after every prospective job and client? Permission granted to say no.

Regular blog posts? Permission granted to say no.

Plan office celebrations? Nada!

Celebrate my own 30th anniversary of this business? You got it—no!!

Publish more watercolors? No way.

Holiday cards and gifts for clients? Not happening.

Holiday cards/cookies/dinner parties for friends? No, no and no.


The reality is that sometimes, “No, you really can’t.” Much of my saying “no” was not a choice. I simply couldn’t do many of the things on my To Do list. However, through this process I’ve learned I must try to be kind to myself and listen to what my body and heart needs. I needed to do physical therapy every day and then swim to regain my mobility and strength. I was exhausted mentally and emotionally so I needed to take a nap. I needed to be there for my son. No matter what, those were my priorities.

Now I look at things and decide if they give me back anything. Does it make me feel better? Is it critical? Can I grit my teeth and move beyond the idea of this perfection in myself?

Of course, no one is thinking less of me. Just the opposite. I have had so much positive encouragement from others. Still, the disappointment within me is real. Because I still feel like I should do it all. It’s hard to break the habit of a lifetime.

But for now, I give myself permission to say no.


Here’s to a much better 2018!