Editor's Column: The Power Of Saying 'No'
Published: Sunday, October 20, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 20, 2013 23:10
Last weekend I went to Boston University to hang out with one of my best friends from home. She lives in an apartment that is a 15-minute T ride from BC, and it was the first time I had seen her this fall. Although we were shocked we hadn’t yet seen each other, we were also suddenly aware of how busy our separate lives had become. In the midst of our junior falls, we both had neglected the promises we had made during our laid-back summer home together that we would meet up consistently once we both returned to school. Last weekend with my friend was carefree and fun, and we parted with renewed promises to make more of an effort to stay in touch.
Arianna Huffington, chair, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, continues to promote her new initiative, “The Third Metric,” which aims to redefine success beyond money and power to encompass well-being, wisdom, the ability to wonder, and to give back. She notes how the “hurry-up culture” and its subsequent promotion of multi-tasking are not effective. In an attempt to combat the modern dependence on technology, Huffington promotes meditation and mindfulness. She believes in sleep and recharging as effective ways of increasing the efficiency of a workplace and increasing personal happiness.
I was struck by a video I came across recently of Huffington speaking to a women’s business audience in Toronto in September. “Did you know that you can complete a project by dropping it?” she said. In her talk, she made the argument that dropping a project can actually be a really healthy thing. It can free you to pursue things you genuinely care about. When we set aside ambitions of power and financial success, we can pursue projects and engage in activities that truly make us happy and fulfilled.
Huffington explained that dropping a project “doesn’t mean ignoring my other needs, but it means when I’m in it, I’m really in it. And that means often saying no to good things, to things that you might want to do, but get in the way of sleep, or get in the way of being with your children, or whatever it is that’s also very important to you.”
There is a definite stigma attached to failure in modern society—especially a society that allows people to present their best selves and write and rewrite their words, hidden behind a screen. In a sense we have lost sight of the idea of failure as a necessary and healthy motivator.
The pressure at BC to constantly be doing more, volunteering more, and setting the world aflame more can become extremely overwhelming. Some days I wake up and feel guilty for not being productive right away. I sometimes find myself beginning research for a paper on a topic, only to realize half way through that I am no longer interested, or that the research hasn’t proven extremely fruitful. Rather than start from scratch with a new thesis, I sometimes soldier on, too intimidated by the idea of starting over. Because wouldn’t beginning again mean I had failed?
Recently I’ve been bombarded with emails about career and internship opportunities, talking about EagleLink and about my future. I’m beginning to feel the pressure when people ask me if I have found my passion yet. But I don’t think I need to have an epiphany in which I all of a sudden “find my passion” through some sort of soul-searching exercise. I have many passions, and I am becoming more comfortable with the idea of trying different things, rather than settling on something I am familiar with, something that I could never fail at.
I’m learning that sometimes it’s perfectly healthy to say “no” to doing things that won’t make me happy. I’m finding that spreading myself too thin only leaves me feeling suffocated. When I’m most fulfilled is when I am involved in fewer activities, but truly and genuinely invested in them.
Eventually I will begin the internship search, and I will get to those things on my to-do list that have been pestering me. But for now, I want to focus on things that make me happy, and say “no” to things that I grudgingly feel obligated to do. So rather than spend an upcoming Saturday stressing about how much is on my plate, maybe I’ll head to BU again and spend time with one of my best friends—a project that definitely brings me happiness. Narrowing the projects I pursue will allow me to be more focused on them, and happier doing them. In terms of what I am currently focusing on in my life, bring on the failure. I’m ready for it.