saying no

Nice Girl Uprising: An Interview With Marriage & Family Therapist Jennifer Padilla-Burger

Jen padilla berger.jpg

Can I be honest? I don’t enjoy the process of making new friends. I find the initial phases of friendship to be an awkward dance of “Does she like me?” and “Should I text her?” and “What can we talk about?” There are too many similarities to dating, and I have always been more of a long-term relationship girl.

When I met up with Jennifer-Padilla Burger last week to talk about our new projects, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Jen and I had met through mutual friends on a few other occasions, but she was very much an acquaintance. Still, I had a suspicion that getting to know her would be different than making other new friends, and I was right.

Chatting with Jen felt like talking with someone I’ve known for years. (If you listen to Jen’s Chai Talk podcast, you’ll know exactly what I mean.) She is incredibly relatable, down to earth and kind. SO SO kind. Another great thing about Jen? She’s a licensed therapist, so pretty much everything she says is insightful and wise.

In this interview, Jen talks about change (this month's theme on This is Thirty Four), the power of saying NO, and what it means to be a NICE GIRL. I needed to hear so much of what she had to say, and I know you'll love it too! 

Jenn Prentice (JP): Hi Jen! Thanks for doing this interview. Can you take a second and tell everyone about yourself?

Jennifer Padilla-Burger (JPB): My name is Jennifer Padilla-Burger and I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Arroyo Grande, California.  I grew up in Mount Shasta, CA which is a small mountain town in the Northern part of the state.  I belong to an amazing tribe which includes my husband, two children, family, and friends that feel like family.  I am blessed to get to do work that I absolutely love.  I am passionate about connecting with people to explore their story, voice, and dreams.  In my free time I’m creating, reading, practicing yoga, or spending time with my family.

JP: We met through mutual friends a while ago, but we’ve really connected over our new writing (and for you, also podcasting) projects. What is your new project, Nice Girl Uprising, all about? 

JPB: Nice Girl Uprising is a movement designed in the spirit of connection, collaboration, and opening up discussions about things we are aching to talk about. I grew up wanting to please others.  I was often concerned about what other people would think and I wanted to be perfect.  Through life experience, yoga, and The Daring Way™ (a highly experiential methodology based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW) I began to peel my layers off and live as a wholehearted person. 

JP: Wholehearted. That’s a term that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean?

JPB: To me, living wholeheartedly, is about embracing our dark and our light, our joy and our sorrow, our successes and our failures.  I am choosing to bring my whole self to the room instead of trying to minimize or abandon parts of myself.  Through Nice Girl Uprising, I am hoping to spark discussion about what’s going on, where we’re headed, and what we want.  With soft hearts and open minds I hope that we can unite in supporting each other in living a life that is kind, fierce, and brave.

JP: Supporting each other through kindness, fierceness and bravery…I think the tension between those three things is a struggle for a lot of women. What are some of the big issues you see women struggling with? 

JPB: The major issue that I see women struggling with today is self-care.  Self-care can seem weird or selfish to women who are accustomed to putting themselves last.  When we continually put ourselves last on our list, we FEEL it.  It tends to show itself through irritability, discontent, and can sometimes progress towards anxiety and depression.  Along with the resistance to self-care, I see women struggling to use their voices and to say “no”.  Part of my work with women is supporting them in using empowering language, to say what they mean, and to choose how and with whom they spend their time.  I am a major advocate for self-care, self-love, and self-forgiveness.  When we are in alignment with ourselves we can give our love and attention to the people that we care about.  It’s in this space of empowerment that we can better discern how to share our energy, time, and love. 

JP: You talk a lot about the importance of saying NO. I tend to be the type of person who says "yes" to a lot of stuff and then regrets it later. Why is it important to learn how to say "no"? 

JPB: For women, I think that “yes” originates from a desire to connect, live in harmony, and formulate positive relationships with others.  When I say “yes” it’s often easier than saying “no”.  My “yes” often means “I like you”, “I don’t want you to be mad at me”, “I should be helpful/generous/dedicated”.  However, the warning call is when I begin to dread my “yes” and drag myself to the event with an irritated, annoyed, closed-off internal state.  That’s not how I want to live my life.  It has been important for me to learn to say “no” so that I can give my energy and attention to what really matters to me.  A “no” to one thing means a big “yes” to my family, my time, and my energy.  I believe that I can shine brightest when I am able to focus on the people and things that make my life meaningful.  Though saying “no” is uncomfortable, that discomfort is brief and frees me up to design my own life.

JP: “Saying no –while uncomfortable at times—frees us up to design our own lives.” I think that’s a message a lot of women NEED to hear. I know I need to hear it. So, what is one tip for saying NO without being mean?

JPB: When I was doing research for Nice Girl Uprising, I found that women didn’t want to seem mean so they avoided saying “no”.  Of course, we don’t want to be the mean girl!  We’re not wired for it.  I designed a video on my website that offers a 5-step process to saying no without being mean.  The first step in this video is using a mantra which is just a word or short phrase to help us stay focused and grounded.  One of my favorite mantras is, “Shoulders back; Heart forward.”  This mantra reminds me to stand strong in my power with my feet rooted firmly on the ground while allowing my heart to lead so that I can communicate in a way that is kind.  This mantra encompasses what Nice Girl Uprising stands for:  women that are soft and strong, kind and fierce, gentle and brave.  We can say “no” in a way that honors our integrity and keeps us in connection with the person that we’re saying “no” to.

JP: This month on This is Thirty Four we're talking about CHANGE. One thing I'm trying to change is my default response to stress and discontentment. Usually, my response is to go shopping. So, because I am an all or nothing person, I’m taking drastic measures and not buying clothes or shoes for an entire year. What would you say to someone, like me, who wants to make a big change in their life? 

JPB: Oooohhh, how exciting!  I can’t wait to follow your journey with this new commitment.  I think you touched on something that is important to talk about in our culture:  numbing.  We all numb to take the edge off of our emotions.  For some of us that might be scrolling through social media, drinking wine, or buying stuff that we don’t need.  We do these things to avoid acknowledging our true feelings.  When we make the brave choice to live in a new way, I think it’s critical to understand our “why”. 

For me, lasting change usually happens when I strive towards how I want to feel versus an end goal.   For example, if someone wants to lose weight it would be important to connect with how they want to feel (free, empowered, strong) rather than the number on the scale.  Jenn, I’m guessing that you made this choice to feel lighter, freer, and more present to your life?  How do those feelings show up in your body?  What activities support those feelings?  When we’re choosing to live according to how we want to feel, our commitments stay in line with our whole outlook on life.  Living in this way can transform goals into lifestyle.  Big changes become part of your path instead of an endless climb.  When we can feel it, we can become it.

 JP: For me, not buying clothes (or shoes) for a year is also an effort to be more intentional in the way I’m spending my money and where I’m focusing my mental energy. I think materialism can take up more mental real estate than we give it credit for. When you and I hung out last week, we talked about the importance of being intentional in the way we live our lives. What's one area of your life that you're trying to be more intentional with and how are you going about doing that?

JPB: I am trying to be more intentional about spending quality time with my kids.  Being an entrepreneur, I make my own working hours, which is great, but I sometimes don’t have a closing time.  Lately, I’ve noticed my desire to “complete just one more thing” which turns into an hour if I’m not careful.  When I am with my kids after school now, I shut down my electronics and play baseball with my son or create art with my daughter.  I figure there will always be time to work later, but they will only be this small for a blink in time.  When I slow down and play with them I am reminded of my “why”.  Seriously, they are the coolest kids!  They refresh me and move me from my head to my heart in a matter of minutes.

JP: You have a daughter. What are you hoping to teach her about what it means to be a NICE GIRL? 

JPB: My daughter is six years old and I think she has been teaching me more than I have been teaching her!  When she was three-years old she was getting ready for bed and she said, “I love my mom, I love my dad, I love my brother, and I love myself.”  I practically did a double take because we often don’t give ourselves permission to openly express love for ourselves as adults.  As her mama, we are always talking about empathy, self-care, and generosity (both in our actions and in our assumptions of others).  When a conflict happens with her peers, I encourage her to stick up for herself but we also talk about what her friend could have been feeling in the moment.  I remind her that her voice and her relationships are equally important.  She can say how she feels in a way that keeps her connected to her friends that she loves and that love her.  My girl is so wise, nurturing, strong, and funny.  I’m seriously considering having her as a guest on the Chai Talk Podcast!  She has so much to offer the world. 

JP: Last question. It’s the one I ask everyone I interview: At the end of your life, what type of legacy are you hoping to leave? 

JPB: I am hoping that people will remember me for how I showed up in my relationships.  I would want to be remembered for being a dedicated wife, a loving mother, a dependable family member, and a loyal friend.  I am hoping to leave a legacy that inspires people to be brave in their lives.  I don’t mean big dramatic bravery, but small acts of bravery that happen when you show up as you are, try new things, and say what you mean.  I hope that my legacy inspires people to be fierce with their time, energy, and schedule.  Doing what we love creates space for more love and that’s worth being fierce about.  Lastly, and most importantly, I hope that I leave a legacy of kindness.  In a harsh world, it’s refreshing to show up with a kind heart.  The connection that kindness breeds will be the very thing that changes the world.