Aegean To Appleton: The Fine Art of Saying No

Overstressed, overworked, and under-caffeinated. I am fairly certain that many if not all of us have felt like that at one point. One could even argue that those kinds of feelings are warranted at a place like Lawrence. Rigorous academic schedules, volunteer opportunities, work, interviews, honors projects, passion projects — those are the woes of the average Lawrence student on a daily basis. It is quite daunting to have your life’s to-do list laid out like that, isn’t it? Despite how overwhelming this list may seem, it is actually quite manageable. I am convinced that most of our frustrations and moments of severe uneasiness don’t come from all the things we want to do; they come from the things we committed ourselves to having to do. Don’t worry, though; it’s not too late to fix that. All you have to do is let some people down.

If you are or have ever been a Lawrence student, you are probably quite familiar with the Lawrence Stress Olympics — “Oh, do you think you have a lot to do? Let me tell you what I have to do!” We take pride in being busy, we take pride in having a planner that is full of tasks. Most of the time, however, our enthusiasm about all this stuff fades quite fast and all we are left with is an endless list of errands and the recurring question, “Why? Why did ever say I would do this?” A common response to that question is “because you like accomplishing things you set your mind to,” although when most of the things you have to do are nothing more than a pain in the neck, then they are probably not that important to you to begin with. I think the reason we overcommit by making promises to others, assuming responsibility for new projects and making plans with friends is because of our need to be well-liked. Everyone wants to be liked. Even the people who walk around in their “Antisocial Social Club” hoodies want to be liked! That is why we always say yes to things and end up wasting so much time down the road. The remedy to that is saying no. It sounds easy, but it is a very difficult skill to master.

Disappointing someone can be an uncomfortable feeling. The social pressure that comes from wanting to be well-liked and present at all times is what leads us into overcommitting ourselves. What most people don’t realize, however, is that by saying no, you may lose some short-term popularity, but you gain long-term respect. If you do not want to partake in some optional activity, don’t! Learning to set clear personal boundaries and staying true to them is a powerful skill that will save you from a number of awkward lunches with people you dislike, being the only person who’s getting stuff done for group projects and all those awful all-nighters you have to pull every now and then in order to catch up with work.