Saying “no” has been one of the hardest things for me to do this year, and even though I still feel bad for saying it, I realize it’s something I have to do if I want to pursue the hard but worthy things in life.

I texted this to my friend, who asked if I could fill out a 15-second survey to help her earn some money. I said: Sorry no. I would love to help you, but I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t go off course on things that don’t align with my long-term goals. Hope you understand.

Thinking she would get my message this time (I wrote to her months ago on why I couldn’t like and comment on her Youtube video — because I wanted to cut down on things that’d distract me from what I was striving to do), I went off to run some errands. It wasn’t until a few hours later when I received an upsetting response:

Why are you putting your priorities over our relationship? Why don’t you care? The amount of time you texted me that, you could’ve finished the survey.

Obviously, she was hurt and upset. And I couldn’t help but feel the same.

Why was she so upset? Why couldn’t she understand? Did she not respect me?

It took me awhile to cool off before I began to see things a little differently. Maybe I didn’t explain myself well enough. Maybe I wasn’t putting much attention on our relationship, as she implied. Maybe it’s my fault for making her feel this way because I didn’t make the time to fully connect with her — about what we were doing, what we wanted out of life, and our values. Most days, I had been so consumed by my desire to do something worthy, in living for something bigger than myself, that I had forgotten to tend to our relationship.

So I decided to write her a letter, not only to explain myself and my seemingly selfish behavior, but to also apologize because…if I had to be honest, I could’ve done better.

Kaylee**,
I love you.
Do you remember when we were in elementary school, we were eating our sandwiches on the picnic table and a leaf accidentally landed in yours and you ate it?
Those memories are precious to me, especially now because I realize with how far you are, newer memories are even harder to make.
And it’s really my fault — those are the kind of things I should be more aware of, that I should’ve done so sooner, which is why I’m going to start with, “I’m sorry.”
A lot has changed with me, especially the way I think and see things. And one of the biggest things I’ve really started to cultivate this year is inner peace and fulfillment, because back then, I was all over the place. A year ago in Southeast Asia, I got hurt, by a speeding motorcyclist who tried to run the right light but ended up crashing the back of my moped; I had no insurance and no one I knew who could speak English and help. A year before that, I was broke, stranded in the coldest place in China where I walked miles looking for a bite to eat, only to realize that all I had was 6 yuan — not enough to get food near where I lived. Five years before that, I hit rock bottom after my nine-and-a-half-year relationship fell apart.
These moments, these experiences, despite how incredibly tough they were, taught me something I didn’t understand until now: Money and relationships may be important to the quality of life you wish to have, but what truly matters at the end of the day are your beliefs and values.
If you can believe in yourself, in your capability to make money, the amount of money you have, even if it’s not a lot, doesn’t matter.
If you value life-long fulfillment over short-term happiness, things that might’ve bothered you before, wouldn’t anymore.
If you believe you deserve to grow and experience what all life has to offer, losing your job or a relationship no longer hurts as much.
Knowing where you stand and what is important in your life strengthens the kind of person you become in the future. But all of this can only come, first and foremost, if you respect yourself.
If we can’t respect ourselves to say no to today’s doughnut for the sake of tomorrow, if we can’t respect ourselves to keep the promises we make, if we can’t respect ourselves to do the hard but worthy things, how can we trust ourselves? How can we grow and become the person we most want to be if the very core of our identity — our values and beliefs — is fragile?
The reason why I said no on filling out the 15-second survey is the same reason why I say no to added sugar or wasting time watching TV. It’s the same reason why I wake up early every morning to go to the gym, why I push myself to write despite not wanting to and why I take cold showers — all because by doing these things, I know there will be a better me tomorrow.
I believe my life holds a greater purpose than doing the things anyone can do; it’s not that I don’t have the time to do your survey, but that it deeply conflicts with the kind of person I wish to become. And if I can’t learn to say ‘no’ to one thing, how can I learn to say ‘no’ to everything else? It may feel like only 15 seconds to you, but to me, it’s a violation of everything that I stand for.
And I can’t give in now, not after everything I’ve been through.
I’m sorry I didn’t explain myself well enough — there are no excuses, I should’ve done better. I just want you to understand that to me, what matters is never the time but the value of time spent. If I can use my time to strengthen our relationship by writing this letter or making a more significant impact on your life than what a 15-second survey could do (being your gym partner, recommending good books, listening when you’ve had a bad day) or helping you achieve a happier and more fulfilling life, then by all means, I’ll go above and beyond with my time for you.
Because those are the things that do matter in a relationship, in our relationship — it’s precisely why we shouldn’t define our relationship based on things simply anyone can do.
Especially now, in these times of crisis. Can you imagine what it would be like to lose everyone we loved or cared about? What would’ve mattered or made a difference?
It’s something I think about often.
I’m not afraid of death, but I’m terrified of not having lived every day to my fullest. That’s why every second matters and why I want to be fully transparent — because what kind of life would it be, if we couldn’t even be honest with the people we care about most?
I’d love it if we could find time to talk again, for us to have an open and honest conversation about our goals and dreams, the things we're struggling with and how we can help each other grow.
So what do you say, Kaylee? It’s about time we reconnected again, yeah?
How have you been?
Love, Tiffany
**names have been changed to protect identity

This letter, despite it taking me far longer to do than the survey, was worth every second of my time. Because had I not addressed the problem nor understood why I can’t always give away my time to every request, I might’ve already lost a relationship…and perhaps respect for myself.

And I’m glad I powered through.

I can only hope that my friend can see where I’m coming from and that I have no ill intentions of hurting or offending her when I say “no”. After all, we just hold different values and see things differently, and while they may be difficult to discuss — many of us don’t even think about why we do what we do — I feel it’s something that could help strengthen a relationship.

Because if you can talk openly, and honestly, about what you truly want out of life and why, man…imagine how far you can go, how happy you can be and how much stronger you feel about what you stand for.

That’s what I’m hoping my friend could see, and hopefully, she’ll take this opportunity to grow with me and to give this relationship another chance.

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This post took 14 hours, 18 minutes to write.