When It’s Okay And Necessary To Say No

I’m a part time perfectionist and full time workaholic. If an opportunity comes my way, I always always take it. I can’t say no. I don’t know how to say no. But I need to. I need to say no.

At the beginning of my freshman year, I started swimming and never looked back, even when the waves crashed into me so hard that I felt like I was drowning. My friends and family see me as ambitious and driven and focused. But inside, in the deep recesses of my mind, I’m drowning.

I am drowning.

Why graduate with one major when I can pursue two? Why work one on-campus job when I can work multiple? Why not take the promotion? Why not commit to an internship? Why not work full-time and complete summer school courses? Why not? Why not? Why not?

Stretching myself too thin for too long has left me exhausted and overwhelmed. I’m tired, so tired. I’m 20 and I’m drowning. I shouldn’t be this tired. I shouldn’t be drowning.

I believe there’s a culture pervading American society that feeds into an unhealthy sense of competition, of getting ahead, of being unable to say no. We are told that we have to be ready to take on the world as soon as we’re handed our diploma. We are told that we need to have perfect grades to match our perfect resumes to match our perfect friends to match our perfect lives.

We are socialized into believing that our lives are ongoing projects that always need improvement. We fall victim to the idea that we are incomplete beings. So we strive for completeness at the cost of personal happiness.

We live under a constant fear that other people will find out we don’t have our lives together, that we are not complete. I’m tired of trying to hold my too-full life together. I’m tired of pretending to be complete. It’s time to say no.

Maybe my tendency to take on too many things is a consequence of growing up in a competitive environment. Maybe it’s an intrinsic part of my personality, my innate curiosity, inability to make decisions and runaway imagination pulling me in any and every direction. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

It’s time to start saying no. It’s time to start now.

I’ve decided to focus on me. I’ve decided to say no. These words felt foreign and wrong coming out of my mouth the first time I said them, but the sense of relief, the sense of being able to breath for the first time in a long time ensured me that I need to say “no” a whole lot more often.

I am dropping my secondary major to a minor. I am working one job over the summer instead of two. I am no longer focusing on all the ways I can disappoint others and am instead focusing on all the ways I can make myself feel fulfilled.

I am learning to say no.

I don’t like saying no. Even as I fill out the forms to drop my major to a minor, even as I make decisions about how I want my next two years to play out, even as I take time for myself, all I want to do is say yes.

Even as I learn to breath again, I gulp in the air too quick, afraid that an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will slip through my fingers if I say no. But I have to say no.

I have to say no. Thought Catalog Logo Mark


More From Thought Catalog