It's Okay to Say No to Responsibilities

I'll admit – I’m one of those people. The ones with the full planners and packed schedules. The ones who are on campus from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., stopping only to work in the library or grab a bite to eat between classes. The ones who stay up late each night reading for classes because they take 18 credit hours each semester. The ones who are running from meeting to meeting during the evenings, leaving early, coming in late, trying to make it to as much as they can.

I take on a lot of responsibilities not because I enjoy being stressed, but because I truly enjoy everything I do and understand that college is a unique place that provides so many opportunities I may never get after I graduate. I can be an organization president, an editor-in-chief, a health officer, a writer, a poet, an artist, and an advocate, all before dinner time. But all of those obligations can be exhausting, and as much as I love being busy, it can lead to burnout rapidly. It is important not to take on more than you can handle, because it can not only lead to lower quality of your work but also can harm your physical and mental health.


Sometimes, it’s good to say no. Why?

1. Sleep is essential to your health

Getting good sleep is important, I say, as I write this article at 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning. But in all seriousness, sleep is a reset button for our health, and if we don’t hit that button with a solid 7-8 hours every night, our health can start to suffer. When you don’t get home from meetings until 9 p.m. every night, have four hours of homework to do, still haven’t eaten dinner, and need to call your mom before you hit the sack for your 8 a.m. class the next day, it’s time to take something off your plate so you can get those zzz’s you need.

Sleep is when you process and store memories, helping you not only to hold onto those history facts you’re trying to memorize for the next exam but also to remember where you left your keys when you got home last night. It’s also when your body does some physical maintenance, regulating the hormones that control hunger and replenishing your body’s immune system. If you find yourself forgetting things, eating more, or catching colds more often, poor sleep may be the culprit. If you need to step down from an officer position or decline to take the lead on a new project to make it to bed earlier, do it – your body will thank you.

Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash

2. Social relationships are just as important as professional ones

One of the reasons I love being so involved is that I meet so many people – students, faculty, professionals, community members – with whom I would never have interacted during my classes. College students are often told that networking is just as important, if not more important, than the classroom education we receive. I am a firm believer in this. However, what makes college so much easier is having a network of friends and family to support you as you go through what may be the most stressful, confusing four years of your life.

If that extra class or those volunteer hours have caused you to cancel Netflix night with your best friend or dinner with your roommates for the past four weeks, it may be time to reevaluate where you should be spending your time. Social interaction gives you time to de-stress, talk through problems you may be facing, and step away from deadlines. A night in with a card game, a glass of wine, and some good friends may be just what you needed to face your next day with renewed energy and passion.

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3. It’s better to do a few things well than many things poorly

In the wise words of Ron Swanson, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” Will others remember that you served on three different committees in three different clubs at the same time? Does the professor you want to write your recommendation letter for grad school care that you’re taking five other upper-level classes, working in a biology lab, and volunteering 10 hours a week? It is easy to want to pick up another class you’re excited about or join a planning team for an event you’d love to throw without thinking of the time you’ll have to commit.

If you take five classes instead of six, you can spend another hour in the library researching for that essay, earning a better grade and leaving a positive impression on your prof. Maybe you’ll finally have a free moment to drop by their office hours to chat like you’ve been intending to do all semester. If you run for one or two fewer officer positions in your club, you’ll be able to dedicate some more time to that new event you’d like to host or the social media campaign you’ve been meaning to launch for your organization. This doesn’t mean you have to drop out of any organizations. It just means that you can let others take the lead for once. You can’t do it all. This was the hardest lesson of all for me to learn, as I had always lived by the motto, “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” While things may not get done your way, they will still get done, the world will continue to turn, and you’ll be able to breathe a little easier without so much weight on your shoulders.

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This isn’t at all meant to discourage you to get involved on campus. Those who know me know I usually jump at whatever opportunity for education, service, or personal growth presents itself. It’s just that sometimes the opportunity for a nap arises, instead, and I’d like to encourage everyone to jump at that opportunity just as often. You’ll thank yourself later.


Cover Photo by Sander Smeekes on Unsplash