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This semester I am going to say ‘no’.

I have spent the last four years of my life investing in my college experience. I have worked on my professionalism within six different jobs within my time and have built great relationships with my peers and professors inside and outside the classroom. I feel like I am going to leave West Chester with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the workplace but there is still one goal that I have yet to meet- having the guts to say ‘no’.

There have been so many wonderful opportunities for me to take advantage of and I often find myself exhausted and overwhelmed by trying to take on as many as I possibly can. My planner is always full and my schedule consistently makes it hard for me to make even imaginary plans more than a few days out at a time. I wanted to make a promise to myself this semester, as my very last semester of undergraduate, to make time for fun and learn to not feel guilty when I need to say ‘no’. 

The main reason I decided to take on this goal is to set better boundaries for myself. I am someone who likes to go above and beyond any and all expectations. I am my own greatest critic, and with critiques comes ways that I think I can improve or sustain my impact. I usually then end up overextending myself and become riddled with anxiety that I am not doing enough. 

The truth is, usually I am still doing way too much. No one is expecting me to be superwoman except for me and I never want to disappoint myself by holding back what I could be contributing. I have learned though, that when I say ‘yes’ too often, all of my projects suffer because there isn’t one solid one that I have devoted all of my energy towards. Instead, I am stuck swimming in the details of a bunch of mini projects that get finished but are not to the highest standard that they can be.

Here is where the trouble is too. All of the things that take up my time and weigh on my anxiety also bring me joy. I get fulfillment out of the work that I do, out of attending extra classes and meetings, and out of being around friends and family for special events. These things fill up my schedule and make me happy but take away my free time. It is hard for me to balance the things that I think I need to do and the things that are just filler. So how am I going to achieve this goal? How am I going to get better at saying ‘no’?

First, I make a list of all of the things that are important, which I usually do in my planner. I categorize information into color-coded areas. Any exams, important work meetings, or events that I cannot miss go in red. Work shifts or covers are written in with blue ink. My classes are highlighted yellow so I do not miss them. Everything else of lesser importance is only written in black. This system keeps me organized and allows me to not miss anything that brightly stands out against things that I may be able to skip over or say ‘no’ to because I have made them seem less important by not emboldening them with color.

Then, I give myself sets of free time to spend with friends. I have a very close group of friends that I have been building and reassembling since my first year of college and it helps me to destress when I spend time with them and just turn my brain off for a little bit. For this to happen, I reserve a day of the weekend to avoid all work. My current work makes it pretty much impossible to not work at least one day of the weekend but I have managed to be able to say ‘no’ to shift coverages and trades to have at least one day off a week. Usually it is Saturday and I work every other day of the week. Since I am free from my actual job on this day, I instilled it into my brain that I will also not do any classwork or projects that are not absolutely necessary on this day as well. The day instead will be used to relax and lay away from any and all responsibilities.

This new boundary has helped me reestablish relationships with my friends and make sure I am still able to put a little bit of fun into my last semester. I can say ‘no’ to work, knowing that I have this day off ahead of time and can plan ahead to do the work either the following day or the days leading up to it. It truly makes the day that much better to not break my own self-imposed ‘no work’ rule.

Finally, I cut myself some slack. With the overwhelming stress of this last year and a half, my college experience has been far from the ‘normal’. I decided that is the perfect excuse to make sure I am taking it easier on myself. I do not need to be a billion places at once or pick up slack when there are 15 other people around that can be doing it do. That’s not to say I have gotten lazy, in fact, I am maybe even busier than I have been in the past but I am scheduling things with intent and understanding of where my boundaries have to be to make sure I am staying mentally happy and balanced.

I encourage everyone going into their last semester to evaluate their time and energy and where it is going. Saying ‘no’ is a skill that will save me in the professional world when I am overcommitting to try to get ahead or make a good impression. I want to take this semester to learn where my boundaries need to be and how to keep myself even when I am feeling overwhelmed. For me, that starts with saying ‘no’.

Rachel Hageman

West Chester '21

Rachel Hageman is a senior at West Chester University. She is majoring in Communication Studies and has minors in Political Science and Applied Ethics. In her free time, she loves to paint, draw, bake, and spend time with her friends.
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