One small word may save your sanity

Photo by Casey Gomez

Maybe it’s just me, but I have discovered that finding a way to utter that simple, one-syllable, two-letter word has been shockingly difficult, particularly in the past year. Somehow, when I try to say the word “no,” I get nervous and shaky — I begin to fear that look of disappointment on the person’s face opposite me and I scramble to think of how I’d possibly fit this new obligation into a time block on my already-packed schedule. 

It shouldn’t be so hard; It’s quite literally one of the easiest words to say, but the thought of having to tell someone no when I’m asked to help them with something or complete a task seems almost unimaginable. As I’ve gotten older, and as I’ve gotten more acquainted to Tech, it has become increasingly difficult to say it. 

I think that’s one of my greatest issues with the culture here at Tech, though I know it isn’t exclusive to our campus. The fact that there is this invisible weight, an unspoken expectation, to constantly be doing something. Because of that, my “break” times lead to a feeling of guilt and me searching for ways to fill it, and when I’m faced with the question “Can you do this,” my automatic response is “yes.” A response I regret later when I feel like I’m drowning in the work I told myself I needed to do. 

What my inability to say “no” leads to is me splitting my time and attention in so many different areas, and across so many different responsibilities, that I can no longer realistically do those things well. Grades begin to slip and meetings are missed, and I spent more time feeling overwhelmed with it all than I did feeling calm. 

I end up saying yes to so many things that those things lose their value; I cannot really give the things that matter the attention they deserve. 

Perhaps more importantly, I cannot really give myself the time I need, the time to be still and to take a break — something that is necessary if we want to do anything effectively. 

Either because I’m terrified of letting people, including myself, down or because I just feel this pressure to constantly be busy, I got to a point earlier this semester where I realized it just wasn’t feasible for me to try to do everything I had been doing. Between a full class load, a part time job and various campus involvements, I felt like I was drowning in the things that once kept me afloat here at Tech.  

We already work so hard as students. We have tons of responsibilities and obligations already before adding jobs, extracurriculars and social involvements on top of those things. These things are so necessary to making our college years enjoyable, and my student experience is only enriched by campus involvements and having interests outside of our school work. But, there is a balance to all of it. 

I’m currently in the process of learning that priorities are very, very important aspects of our lives. 

I remember growing up, my parents would always lecture me on priorities. I would tune them out, thinking I knew everything or thinking I could do everything. 

We don’t have to do everything. Actually, doing less allows us to really invest in those things we are doing. Something I’ve heard a lot is to “invest deeper not wider”, and I think that’s a piece of advice we could all use.

I also think that this is a lesson we all have to learn for ourselves. It can be hard to know just how much you can manage unless you take on too much. Sometimes, I think we all need to learn that taking on less isn’t a bad thing.

What’s worse, in my opinion, is staying in those unhealthy environments where life revolves around work, where everything feels planned and stressful. 

It is okay to step away from those responsibilities and to take time for the things you enjoy. I think once we do that, the things that we do prioritize can become more valuable parts of our lives. 

It’s important to realize that saying no is necessary and good. Since learning how to say that ironically simple word, I have found myself enjoying this semester again and actually feeling excited about the few things I have on my less-busy schedule.