Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
steve martin and martin short in Only Murders in the building season 3
steve martin and martin short in Only Murders in the building season 3

It’s OK (and Necessary) to Say No

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Penn chapter.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always easy to say no! Whether you feel the pressure to please people, struggle with FOMO, or are just a little uncomfortable with the word itself, I’m going to take you through why it’s ok and necessary to say no.

1. Showing up for yourself helps you show up for others

Every time you get on an airplane, they give instructions regarding how you need to put on your own oxygen mask before you can begin to help others. Not only is this an important airplane safety tip, but it’s a metaphor that is so applicable to your life! You can’t help others if you don’t help yourself first. To be the best version of yourself, and show up for others with 100% focus and dedication, you have to say no sometimes. You are not just doing a disservice to yourself but to others when you don’t set the boundaries you need. 

We only have so much energy to expend and we need to be deliberate about where, when, and how we allocate this energy. Some of it has to go to recharging ourselves and a large part of that lies in saying no. If you aren’t strong, healthy, and fulfilled, you can’t help others. You can’t pour from an empty cup!

2. Missing out is a part of life (embrace it!)

In my Economics class, we learned about the idea of tradeoffs and more specifically, opportunity cost. To put it simply, the opportunity cost of making a decision is the benefit you forgo by making said decision. For example, if you stay in instead of going out, your opportunity cost would be the excitement you would’ve had if you’d gone out with your friends. Nothing in life can come without an opportunity cost because inevitably we can’t be everywhere at once.

We have to accept the “opportunity cost” and be present in the decisions we make. Missing out on one event allows us to make time and prioritize another. Trust your intuition and choose to devote your time and energy to what makes you happy. Oftentimes,  social media can cause a spiral of comparison and “what-ifs?” so take space from it when needed. Appreciate where you are and live in that moment, rather than elsewhere.

There will always be something you are missing out on. And while we definitely can try to maximize the benefits of our decisions, there may be times when you feel like you made the wrong decision. However, I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and whichever path you choose to take is the right one for you (even if you can’t see it right now). Be happy with the decisions you make and recognize that if you do miss out on something great, it just wasn’t meant for you (and that’s alright!). 

Warner Bros. Television

3. Only people who can respect your “no’s” deserve to be in your life

This section will especially hit home for my fellow people-pleasers. The worst part of saying no, for me at least, is the thought of hurting or disappointing the people I care about. I don’t want the people in my life to feel like they aren’t a priority to me, and I’ve always thought saying no to prioritize myself is selfish. However, I’m slowly learning that your true friends and family will want you to prioritize yourself (and tell you to do so!). While they may be temporarily disappointed, if they genuinely want what is best for you, they’ll understand and encourage you to set the boundaries you need. People who don’t respect your boundaries or your “no’s” are not people you want in your life. It’s that simple! 

There are times when you will need to make sacrifices for your friends, but there will also be times when you need to make sacrifices for yourself. People pleasing builds unrealistic expectations of what you can give to another person and creates shaky foundations for relationships. Your value does not just stem from what you bring to another person, it stems from who you are inherently: your kindness, heart, and values. It’s important to show up and support your community, but it’s also important to show up and support yourself. 

Practice makes perfect! It’s not going to be easy the first, second, or even tenth time you say no. I’m still learning, and I highly recommend having an accountability buddy to keep you in check and make sure that you are saying no and setting the boundaries you need (my best friend reminds me of this all the time!). As time goes on, you’ll feel grateful for putting yourself first and learn how to strike the balance between yes and no, FOMO and JOMO (the joy of missing out does exist!), and your relationship with others and your relationship with yourself. 

If you want to read more about saying no and dealing with FOMO, especially in college, check out another one of our great articles here!

Ria Jani

U Penn '26

Ria is a sophomore at UPenn majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She loves traveling, journaling, and singing!