Corey’s Corner: the discipline of saying “no”

President Barry Corey argues that busier is not always better.

The week of Missions Conference, I sat with students in the Caf just to ask questions. That Friday, a dozen guys I’ve come to know quite well from across campus got up early to join me, huddled in the “ski lodge” for breakfast. A few days later about the same number of ladies from Sigma sat around pushed-together tables just to talk about their experiences at Biola, responding politely and honestly to my questions. Those conversations were among the highlights of my week, and these frank talks always help me immensely in my role at Biola.

Learning to say “no” to extra activities

In one of these conversations, I heard the strains of some of you whose lives have become so busy your stamina has grown thin. It’s the hard push of the semester, over the hump of midterms and pressing on toward the end of May when finals are, well, exactly that. Professors demand your best, as they should. Student leadership roles take a toll on time. Co-curricular activities add more stuff to your schedule but not more hours to your day. Friendships are demanding. Families still need you. Volunteer service is a serious commitment. Heavy credit semesters compound the academic weight. Deadlines don’t budge, creating stresses as many responsibilities are crammed into a dwindling number of days.

Caffeine works for a few hours, but is hardly the antidote to a very full life. For what it’s worth, take this bit of advice: Learn the discipline of saying, “No.”

Busier is not always better

Saying “no” to opportunities is not a sign of your inadequacy. We think that a “no” is tantamount to being a killjoy or embodying a negative spirit. Wrong. Rather, learning to decline is a discipline that’s healthy. It’s a sign of self-awareness and strength, not of weakness. We often don’t realize the cumulating effect of “yesses.” We don’t want to let someone down, so we say “yes.” We think an offer that comes our way might be that great resume builder we need, so we say “yes.” We live in the myth that to be busy is to have a purpose, so we fill our lives by saying “yes,” believing falsely that we’ve yes’d our self-worth up a few notches. Busier is better? Another myth.

We don’t project in advance what those “yesses” mean when their time comes. We agree to this and to that weeks in advance, easily saying “yes” when cashing in on that “yes” is still a ways off. Then come the compounding days when all those “yesses” you’ve said pile one upon the other. Anxiety ensues.

Learning to say “no” might be a good corrective to the stresses of “yesses.”

Practice saying “no” in front of a mirror or on your roommate. Try saying “no” with a smile on your face. Consider the gentler euphemisms for “no,” like, “I don’t think I can add one more thing to my life right now.” “It sounds like a great idea, but it’s not really my skill set.” “This time I’ll pass, but ask me again another time.”

Give yourself the permission to say “no,” and you might find that you’ll get more of that sacred space your soul needs. You might find that you’re pondering more and scurrying less. You might find a release of joy suppressed. After thoughtful consideration, you might even find that saying “no” will give you more of a “yes” spirit.

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