It's ok to say no

Hannah Galdes

In 2020, my resolution was to say no.


Resolutions have been a topic of discussion in my family for as long as I can remember. I know people often criticize resolutions, and I don’t blame them. Abandoned fitness and diet goals often come to mind--and although I wish I could cut out sugar as much as the next person, that’s just not a promise to myself that I can keep. Instead, my resolutions have grown increasingly less specific and measurable, and I focus more on what is reasonable for me.


In 2019, my resolution was to say yes. 2018 was a year that forced me to face my shortcomings. I let fear of failure and judgment by my peers control my life, which left me unhappy and afraid to try new things and make changes in my life. So, I said yes to social events with people that I did not know well. I said yes to attending a new yoga class at the local community center. I said yes to volunteering for the demonstration in class. Small and large, I said yes to the opportunities that presented themselves.


As I mentioned before, in 2020, my resolution was to say no. I always want to make others happy, but my 2019 “yes-capade” showed me that my propensity for putting others first sometimes pushed me past my limits and did the exact opposite of what I had intended. It left me feeling empty. While saying yes undoubtedly introduced me to new people and experiences, the greatest thing it did for me was open my eyes to the importance of putting myself first.


In other words, saying yes taught me that my happiness and strength actually lie in my ability to say no. 


As 2021 has started and I get into the swing of things for the second semester, I find myself sometimes falling back into the yes trap. At Duke, new experiences, new places, new opportunities, and new people seem to be endless. I have had the same conversation with so many of my friends here, and that conversation can be summed up with the phrase: “I feel like I never get a break here sometimes.” 


Yes, the endless opportunities here -- both social and academic -- are part of what makes Duke such an amazing place, but with this, we can’t lose sight of the fact that it is okay to skip out on things every now and then. By saying yes all the time, I only leave myself feeling drained rather than fulfilled. 


We need to remind ourselves that sometimes it’s okay to say no. In fact, it’s not just okay, it’s essential. Saying no has given me the ability--the freedom--to put more time into the things that matter to me. I encourage you to do the same.