I planned a conference for 350 people…because I couldn’t say no.

Writing that down makes me feel ridiculous, but it’s the truth. In a way. Actually, I volunteered. No one else would step up. So, I volunteered. Is that better or worse? I am not sure. All I know is that I used to have a really hard time saying no, and it has put me in some ridiculous situations such as planning a conference for 350 people. As a volunteer.

Other people may have done worse things, but for a codependent, this means my people pleasing has run amuck. I put other people’s needs before my own (and sometimes, my family) and that can be a problem.


Why did I volunteer to organize such a large conference? The organization was a patient advocacy group representing the same genetic disorder my daughter has so when I was helping that community, I felt I was also helping her. In reality, I had enough on my plate attending to her health care needs.

Why? The organization was in turmoil, and the annual conference was by far the largest fundraiser at the time. I felt if I didn’t step up, the organization would fall apart. Of course, it never occurred to me (or any of the other board members) that we could look at other options.

Why? I was on the Board of Directors and felt it was my duty. Was it, really?

Why? The organization chose to have the conference in my state for good reasons, and no one stepped up. Did I give anyone a chance to volunteer? Or did I think I was the ONLY one who could do it?

Why? Why? Why?

I had a lot of good reasons to do it, but I didn’t think it through. I was a people pleaser, and I wanted to help. At the time, I was a full-time mom/taxi driver with three busy kids. It was non-stop appointments and practices every day and all day in the summer. They all had sports, but one of my kids had a three-hour practice every day, a 30-minute drive away. Thank goodness for carpools! My daughter had numerous doctor appointments, and a newly diagnosed heart condition which I spent more time researching. My youngest needed more supervision so I hired babysitters and put him in a summer school course to focus on my volunteer efforts. And those are just a few examples of why I was busy enough without taking on an extra job.

Did I mention that I worked 50 hours a week for this volunteer opportunity? And that I quit my full-time job to spend more time with my kids? Now I was volunteering and paying someone to watch my kids. It sounds crazy because it is.

Ironically, I would leave my daughter’s softball games early to go home for conference planning calls. Yes, I would miss my daughter’s games — the one who I was supposedly doing this for — to plan the conference. All because I couldn’t say no.

I was happy that the conference was a big success and I received many accolades. While I was planning the annual conference, they hired a wonderful President who is still at the helm. Did I help keep the organization viable? Did people like me better because I did it? I don’t know, and as much as I care for the organization, it doesn’t matter anymore because now I have learned to say no and to put mine and my family’s needs first. No. It is a complete sentence.

After the conference, my husband coined the term, “When Natalie volunteers, we ALL volunteer.” That is less true today I am happy to say.