Over the course of my college years, I’m not sure there’s anything I did more frequently than editing. Rewriting, reworking, reorganizing, rewording, and shifting thoughts and actions and answers to create a finished project worth submitting. While this skill is valuable for academic pursuits, it is even more so for life outside the classroom.
Whether you are editing a paper or a set of possessions, it all boils down to being able to say no to the less-than and say yes to the good. Saying no to that plot twist that sucks, saying yes to feedback from your professor. Saying no to that pair of jeans that will never fit you again (let’s be realistic), saying yes to your favorite cozy sweater. Saying no to following that high school friend that now only ever posts “before and after” photos for a sketchy weight loss product, saying yes to following a few inspirational and meme accounts that make you smile when you see them. Yes to things that spark joy, that contribute to your life, and that allow you to contribute to something beyond yourself in a healthy way; no to things that drain you, that prevent you from soaking up the good things in life, that suck life out of you without really making a difference. It takes practice, but there is so much good on the other side of learning to say no.
Women, especially, are likely to say yes far too often. People agree to whatever they are asked to do, and it can pile up astonishingly quickly. Of course, you can help with that project your coworker is working on, mm hm, you can help with that school project they are totally overwhelmed by, yes, you will bring something to the bake sale next week and go with your friend to their second cousin’s concert, and before long you are booked up and burnt out. Sometimes, it doesn’t even look like a clear yes! Picking up the phone for a call you know you don’t want to have, following an account you don’t really like, and not saying no when others dump things on you can all be varieties of saying “yes.”
This desire to say yes to anything and everything can come from many different places, and it seems that most people have a mixture of reasons for saying yes to the things they do. One of the easiest to call out is a distorted fear of abandonment. Especially for people who grew up experiencing conditional love, neglect, or abuse, this is an easy fear to fall into. No one wants to be entirely alone in the world, and if saying “no” when someone wants you to say “yes” means that you will lose that connection, it can be terrifying to put your own needs first. We may also have a fear of disappointing others or appearing selfish, which is all too often reinforced by unhealthy people who have gotten used to others having few to no boundaries. There are many more reasons that are as unique as the people who have them, but these are a few of the most common.
No matter your reasons, if you are feeling burnt out or overwhelmed with life, it might be a good time to learn how to say no. Reclaim control over your time, health, and relationships. At first, it will be uncomfortable, painful even, but this is a situation where you have to choose the kind of pain you will experience: the pain of saying no and some people not handling it well, or the pain of saying yes to things that are not good for you or that mean biting off more than you can chew.
Think about it: what things are sucking the life out of you right now? What commitments or relationships have you taken on that you really just do not have the space for right now? It might not even be something particularly large, but rather, a collection of smaller yeses that add up. Responding to someone who loves baiting you into fights, agreeing to meet someone for coffee when you know you don’t have the emotional or mental space for the conversation, or accepting an extra project at work that you don’t have the time or energy to complete well… Any one of those things on their own might not seem like a huge deal, but when you’re in the habit fo saying yes by default, they pile up until you are crushed under the weight.
Instead of defaulting to yes – responding to that text, agreeing to do that thing you don’t have time for, or keeping that item because what if – take the time to decide if it’s worth including in your life. Set up boundaries around your energy, effort, relationships, and time. Learn to say no, starting with little things and working your way up to the big things. Let commitments slowly fall off your shoulders, lightening the load so you can chase better things.
Edit. Assess. Repeat.