The Importance of ‘No’

Jenna McCord is a freelance writer and MFA student with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and creative writing. She spent her college years working in the Student Publications office, hanging out with her sorority sisters, laughing with her three housemates, and falling in love. She now spends her free time reading, writing fiction, exercising, cooking, and exploring her new home of Chicago.


When I was in college, I had a serious problem. Whenever someone would ask me if I could do something, I always said yes. I couldn’t hear the words, “Hey, Jenna, could you—” without immediately nodding and saying, “Sure of course I can!” It was like a Pavlovian response gone horribly wrong.


Maybe saying yes all the time doesn’t sound like a big problem. You should always make time to help other people out, right? Well, of course you should. But here’s why ‘yes’ became a huge problem for me: I rarely bothered to ask myself if I really wanted to, if I had time, or if there was anyone else better suited for the task. And interestingly enough, I usually didn’t want to, I usually didn’t have quite enough time, and there was almost always someone else who could have gotten the job done. But I didn’t let myself think about that — I just said yes.


Too much ‘yes’ made my life a nightmare. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning editing other people’s papers (for free), even though there was a writing center on campus. I put off homework and studying to have hours-long heart-to-hearts with friends, even though they didn’t take my advice.


Soon, ‘no’ was a faraway, impossible concept, with only one exception: I was really, really good at saying no to myself. I said no to naps, relaxation, and other healthy habits. And the worst part? I spread myself so thin that I never really had the time, energy, or mental clarity to give 100% to any one thing. I said yes to so many things that I wound up doing almost all of them poorly. This led to constantly feeling disappointed in myself. Why couldn’t I do more? Why couldn’t I do better?


So if there’s any advice I could give to college students, it’s this:  Teach yourself that it’s okay to say no. Remind yourself that it’s better to do three things really well than to do six things poorly. It’s been said a million times — college is the time to discover who you are and what you want. And you can’t do that if you’re constantly putting your own needs at the bottom of your to-do list.

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