Op-Ed: How Does One Say No?

Something I have noticed in college is that for many students, saying no to added responsibility is not an option. I feel like I am missing out, letting someone down, giving myself too much grace. It’s not FOMO, I don’t regret missing out on a day-long $30 drunken field trip to neighboring backyards or anything.

It’s about wanting every moment I spend here to be worthwhile. But once everything builds up, and I have seventeen leadership roles, and three classes, and friendships to maintain, everything becomes overwhelming and I can’t do anything. It’s the problem of the college student who can’t say no.

You might see us in many different locations around campus. Oh, there they are again! Running, usually, and sweating underneath day-old clothes. You might catch me at an odd hour staring off into space, watching the leaves remain green. You might see me getting angry at the weather, even though I spend 95 percent of my time indoors, the other 5 percent in-transit.

I am the student who forgets I signed up for something, remembering only as my phone dings or as I pass a fellow over-committer on the upper mall. “Oh, that’s tonight?”

I eat on the go (when I do eat) and usually have a cup of caffeine in hand.

Some of us, in our exhaustion, become incredibly emotional, and everything is a reason to cry. A small human? Here come the waterworks. A nice sunset? Someone call the opposite of the fire department.

But, what’s more important about those of us who extend ourselves beyond belief is our dedication. Somewhere in the mix of commitments, we sign up for things because they bring us joy. Or maybe we learn so much, and in those moments, we forget the midterm papers hanging over our heads or the most recent meal we were “supposed” to eat. Maybe we are people pleasers, and we know that the more connections we make, the more communities we are a part of, and the more benefits we might reap from them. For myself, relationship building and life-giving learning motivates me to say yes to all that I can. Sometimes, though, it’s not wanting to disappoint anyone, and wanting to justify my worth as a valuable member of society. Whatever the reasons are, they are deeply rooted and super duper hard to challenge.

So what do we do? We have to practice. Practice saying no, in the mirror, to our professors (maybe this is going in the wrong direction?). What else can we do?

In lieu of crossing things off of my commitment list (because let’s face it, saying no after saying yes is worse than ever saying no in the first place), I will commit to giving myself more time to be. This might mean smiling at strangers and stopping to smell the flowers or making sure I get a full night’s sleep. It might mean staying up late with a new friend and laughing about things like speed walking and men’s underwear.

The point is, if you are one of these people who has an extremely difficult time finding balance in the life, you are not alone. In fact, we are many and everywhere, and the University would not function as it does without our laborious efforts and the time we share. So, with that, carry on as you will, and try saying no sometimes along the way.

Brinkley Johnson, Third-Year Humanities for Teaching Major

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