Why is Saying “No” So Hard?

Hello hello! Wow, it’s been just a bit since I posted. I hope you all had a lovely Mother’s Day! I had the most relaxing weekend at home my mama and minimal studying. I read an entire book cover to cover for the first time in months and it was glorious. I love Alyssa Mastramonaco and the little glimpses she gives of behind the scenes life in the Obama White House! My mom and I did a little shopping, tried out a new restaurant in our downtown area, watched Wine Country on Netflix (it was meh – some bits were really funny but I wanted more), and had brunch with a family friend. All in all, a pretty perfect weekend and another reminder of why I love living so close to home again!

I took my neuro midterm last Monday and I’m actually caught up on lectures from last week somehow. Honestly, there’s not too much to report aside from the realization that I’m way overextended in my extracurricular involvements, which lets be honest, is par for the course for me. I thought I’d take you through why it’s so hard for me to say “no” and what I’m trying to do about it now!

I have a really hard time saying no — to things I want to do and sometimes to things I don’t want to do. I even made “no” my word for the year. I wanted to be more intentional about using my limited time outside of attending lecture and studying, but here I am again, over involved and trying to keep up with it all. This might be part of the millennial mentality (apparently we’re workaholics #hustle) but more so, I think it’s just my personality and partially my former life creeping in.

Working in legislative affairs in D.C. is basically a career in multitasking — I handled a portfolio of about seven different policy issues and was responsible for tracking important legislation, attending coalition meetings, writing press releases and blog posts, and implementing programming on those issues at a handful of conferences. I did this work in some form or another for three years before moving onto graduate school. I rarely said no to any request because that’s how you gain experience and a way to have some truly incredible opportunities. And I’ve just never moved on from that type of mentality.

I didn’t really think medical school would be any different; I might be on a career path I could have never imagined just a few years ago but I’m still me. And I still love to learn and get my hands dirty and be involved in all sorts of projects. All this to say, I finally wrote out a list of my projects and extracurriculars this weekend while working on an updated C.V., and wow…I really said yes a lot this year.

I’m not looking at this overextension with negativity, just with an understanding that while I can do anything, I can’t do everything. I need to protect my time because first and foremost I am here to learn, so that one day I will be equipped to diagnose, treat, and heal patients. There is certainly more to medicine than knowing the ten histological layers of the retina (unless you’re an ophthalmologist, in which case maybe you do need to know those?) but with my first year coming to an end and second year looming, it’s time to do some self-reflection and re-focusing.

At the end of the day, I’m still sleeping more than enough and doing well in school, so I’m not planning to drop any projects. But I really need to bring back my word of the year and say “no” more often. The more you get involved, the more fun and exciting opportunities you become aware of, which makes that pesky word harder and harder to say. But I have just under a month left in my first year and I want to give it my all — to school, my extracurriculars, my business, the blog — and still celebrate this accomplishment with my friends. The plan from now until the end of the school year is NO NEW ACTIVITIES OR PROJECTS. I might have said yes to another project on Friday…but that’s the last one, I swear! And it’s related to one of the organizations I hold a leadership position in, so I’m viewing it as a natural extension. See, this is the thinking that gets me into trouble…

My to-do list grows each day and my focus seems to wane faster each afternoon. Starting today, I’m going back to my old scheduling trick of putting everything in the calendar (7 am – watch XYZ lecture; 8 am – make study guide; 10 am – watch specific review videos, etc.). I think having a running to do list is important but sometimes I need more structure to get it all done. I’m also going to be writing all of my commitments on a piece of paper and tacking it up above my desk as a constant reminder that I’m already involved in so many amazing projects — and that I just don’t have enough hours in the day for anything else. If I come across a new opportunity and just have to be involved, something else will have to give.

So I guess that’s my simple plan moving forward to get myself through this time of over-extension : schedule everything (within reason), have a physical, visible reminder of my commitments, and know that if I want to say yes to something new then a current project has to go.

I don’t really have a good answer here, and it’s a beautiful mess of my own making. But if you also feel like a duck treading water — calm on the surface, furiously paddling under the water — I’m here to say you’re not alone. Join my “Overcommitted Club” and let’s work on saying “no” together.

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