The importance of learning to say “no”


Upon moving to Leipzig, my biggest concern was that I wouldn’t make any friends. And, to be honest, who can blame my former self? I was uprooting to a city on my own, where I knew no one, had nothing concrete lined up, and had visited only once before (what on Earth was I thinking?!).

Kein Wunder that the weeks and days leading up to my departure were characterised by sleepless nights spent convincing myself I’d die alone and unfulfilled. Five months in to my Leipzig life and, I can safely say, that should have been the least of my worries.

How easy a place is for meeting people is an incredibly subjective topic influenced by countless variables, such as life stage, proactivity, level of extroversion, and even just pure luck.

Moving somewhere solo can be quite challenging.
Moving somewhere solo can be quite challenging.

Plus, not everyone wants to bloody meet people. Having said that, some places are simply more conducive to bringing individuals together than others and, in my limited experience and humble opinion, I’d say Leipzig falls under this category.

This wonderful little city, little being the operative word, is small enough to make the chances of bumping into people high, yet big enough to boast an impressively diverse selection of recreational activities ranging from feminist talks and goth festivals to tinnitus-inducing techno sets against industrial backdrops. This, unsurprisingly, greatly facilitates finding your posse, not to mention stalls otherwise premature and, thus, often empty Facebook name exchange manoeuvres.

Forever alone...?
Forever alone…? No chance!

Leipzigers can rest assured they will stumble upon familiar faces with similar interests or political leanings at future events, allowing them to profile individuals in the old-fashioned way, rather than through a sly Facebook stalking binge, should one be so inclined. Moreover, this adds a romantic layer of mystery and anticipation to encounters and socialising that has all but disappeared from Europe’s larger metropolises.

In addition, the city is home to swathes of eternal students, artists and critical thinkers, who contribute to Leipzig’s open and relaxed feel. It flourishes in the absence of an overbearing corporate culture, which creates the perfect environment for expedited and meaningful human connections.

Whilst this warm community feel is an undeniably positive feature, it can be somewhat overwhelming for erstwhile Hauptstadt dwellers, leaving them craving anonymity.

Postcard produced by Kartenspiel Leipzig. Photo by Holly Doran
Postcard produced by Kartenspiel Leipzig. Photo by Holly Doran

When you throw into the mix the initially boundless energy generated by making a bold move solo, which often manifests itself in blind acceptance to invitations of any description, fresh expats can find themselves robbed of that all-important “me time” – with no one to blame but themselves.

Though adopting a “why not” attitude can be exhilarating and is a fantastic way of widening your circle, even leading to the discovery of new pastimes if you’re lucky, it can also lead to burnout. There’s only so long you can kid yourself that going to crocheting classes on Tuesday nights is what you’re all about.

It can be easy to disconnect with yourself when under pressure to deepen new friendships.

I’ve often found myself going to museums, on day trips, or nights out far more up other people’s Straßes than my own.

Painters who stay with us. (Public domain)

Branching out – and doing things you wouldn’t dream of doing if it weren’t for the promise of a few hours of fulfilling and stimulating social interaction – can of course, be positive. But if it leaves you with little to no time to satisfy your own burning desire to, say, immerse yourself in a sea of GDR-era paraphernalia at a local Flohmarkt, then mastering the art of the polite “no” may well come in handy (if anyone’s actually figured this one out then please do not hesitate to get in touch).

So what’s the answer? Should you repeatedly decline potential soulmates’ invites to sit on Sachsenbrücke with a crate of warm beer because you don’t get what’s so great about a bridge? Or should you be an unfaltering “yes man” and sow the seeds of eternal alliance by pleasing those around you at the expense of your inner peace and productivity?

Once again, the answer is that all-elusive “balance” word.

Ensuring you have time to honour your commitments to yourself is just as important as putting yourself out there socially, and if the former means hermitting it up for a couple of days, then so be it. Many find saying “no” uncomfortable, in both their professional and personal spheres. Nobody likes letting people down, or worse, hurting people. Nor is anyone immune to “FOMO,” something which is only intensified in untapped territories.

I need to be having a good time all the time, right? Sounds crap, but what if it’s the best night of my life? What if this person doesn’t invite me to anything ever again because I said “no” on this occasion? This open air only happens once a year, so if I miss it I’ll have to wait an entire year, won’t I? What if I really do die alone and unfulfilled?

Arghhhhhhh! Such are the repetitive anxious thoughts of the overwhelmed Einwanderer.

A double-edged sword, if ever there was one. Postcard from EDGAR FREECARDS. Photo: Holly Doran
A double-edged sword, if ever there was one. Postcard from EDGAR FREECARDS. Photo: Holly Doran

Once our new playgrounds have been by and large scoped out, attempting to keep up the newcomer momentum only invites jadedness, which, in turn, signals the need to, in the wise words of Nancy Reagan, “just say no” more often. It’s time to give yourself a well-earnt break from being your best self for the benefit of your budding relationships and to be plain old you for the benefit of, well, plain old you.

The keepers will get your newfound enlightenment with regard to the indiscriminate doling out of precious Freizeit, so don’t fret it. Plus, indulging in a little alone time unterwegs to interpret and draw conclusions on your new base unperturbed by social influence ain’t all bad. In fact, it’s pretty great.

In short, knowing what you want, who you are and what you like, and letting this dictate whether it’s a “yes” or a “no,” is just as important in your adopted home as it was in your original home. As Paulo Coelho has said:

Freedom is not the absence of commitments but the ability to choose – and commit myself to – what is best for me.

Hear hear. Oh and if it’s “FOMO” stressing you out… you live in Leipzig… there’ll always be cool new shit to do and cool new people to do it with. So chill, Alter.

Holly is a 28-year-old London girl turned Leipzig enthusiast. By day, she works at ProVeg, an NGO looking to reduce the consumption of animal products and by night, she indulges her love of words, both foreign and otherwise. Besides all things German, her passions and interests include dogs, running, Eastern Europe, 20th century history, vegan food, sarcasm, and linguistics.

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