Mild Mannered Straightened priorities: Saying no in a world of yes

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Its about that time when all of our friends start getting married. About a year ago, I received a wedding invitation that gave me two options of response. Option 1: Accept with pleasure, Option 2: Decline with regret. It occurred to me that there were two other possible options. So, I wrote these on the invitation itself. Option 3: Decline with pleasure, Option 4: Accept with regret. (Of course, I checked the accept with pleasure box before sealing the envelope).

It’s true though. We frequently say yes to things that we really do not want to do. Why?

At school, students spend their time sprinting from lecture to meeting to networking to tutoring to test taking to group study to lunch on Charles Street to a campus job to block party. Each one of these things is potentially helpful for us. But why do we insist on running incessantly from one to the other when it wears us down?

One explanation is that we are afraid we will miss something if we don’t go. We might miss making that contact to land that job. We might miss that inspiring quote at a seminar that could change our whole perspective. We might miss out on the start of that inside joke that goes on for forever.

So we go to all of these events. Unfortunately, we are too busy thinking about the next event that we miss the joke anyway. We forget that inspirational quote. We couldn’t come up with anything interesting to say when we met that CEO.

In a frenzied attempt to not miss anything – we miss everything. We would have been better off staying home – at least we would have felt rested.

When we bring this conundrum to a parent or mentor, the common response is, “You just need to learn to say no.” This sort of advice is cited often but seldom followed. How come?

Especially in a student’s life, there doesn’t seem to be much of a choice. If we say no to homework – we will flunk. If we say no to our boss – we’ll miss tuition next month. So then, the only things that we feel like we can say no to are sleep and friends – but that doesn’t seem right either.

We can’t say yes to our friends all the time either. Reflecting on this situation, business student Jared Caplan said, “Its important to understand that you’re always going to have…something that you could go to that sounds more appealing.” This is true. It comes as a surprise to us when fun activities pop up when we are trying to get things done. We ask, “Why does this always seem to happen to me?” Maybe we shouldn’t get so surprised.

So how do we get over this? Business student, Emmanouil Giorgakis, gives some insight into the issue. He says, “I’ve got way too many things going on outside of school to get stressed… I work a lot at the family owned business – and that takes priority.” Figuring out what we care about the most seems to be the first step into when we should say yes and when we should “decline with regret.”

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