OPINION: The power of learning how to say ‘no’ in your adult life


Rose Donnelly, Commentary Editor

Between school, work, social engagements and personal relationships this time of your life is challenging to say the least. As college students, we are beginning this path into adulting and the trials that come along with it. So, what is this mythical and mysterious world of adulting? 

Beyond the obvious – paying rent, having a job, pursuing a higher education (sometimes), a new social sphere and the list ensues; there is something at the heart of the adult world that seems to be never talked about – the power of saying “no.” 

Arguably the most important skill you will learn in your prime adulting years is the ability to say “no”. This skill isn’t one that is talked about, but it can make or break your goals of succeeding in your adult life. 

Mastering the skill of saying “no” is not easy.. If you tend to be the type of person who is always on board, stepping back from commitments or opportunities can be painful. But what is more painful than working yourself to near destruction?

Setting boundaries is a healthy and vital way to navigate new adult obligations. There is no shame in saying “I don’t have the time for this” or “thank you for the offer, but I must decline.” 

Americans are driven by capitalism and the pursuit of the “American Dream” – that of happiness and wealth. The cutthroat atmosphere of success drives people to the point of no return if they feel pressured to continuously keep adding more to their plates. 

There is no gold medal for doing the absolute most all the time. All you end up with is a too-full plate heaped with unhappiness. Time is a precious commodity and if it’s wasted by pleasing others or trying to prove something, you only end up hurting yourself in the long run. 

Prioritize yourself, too. Caring for yourself is just as important as caring for others. To use a real-life example, put that oxygen mask on first before helping the people next to you. 

Saying “no” doesn’t have to be dramatic or a big show. It’s the small things that pile up that get us in the end.

The fear of missing out, or “FOMO,” is a real thing that makes us over commit because we want to not miss out on social engagements. Remember that your mental wellbeing is more important than a party. 

Start out small. If you are on a tight budget, maybe don’t go out to dinner with your friends that one night. If you are drowning in school work, say “no” to adding more extracurriculares into your schedule. If you are exhausted from work or need more time to focus on other things, don’t pick up that extra shift for someone else. 

Once you begin to master saying “no” to the smaller things, you can ease into the larger commitments or social engagements over time.

If you give all of your time to others, you will never have enough time for yourself. Your college years are supposed to be full of new adventures and academic pursuits. Don’t waste your time on things that will tax you, spend them on the things that bring you joy and future opportunities. 

Set boundaries and say “no” more often. The world will not implode if you aren’t committing to every activity and course load imaginable. 

Your adult life can be more enjoyable if you remember that this new freedom also includes time spent for yourself.

Commentary editor Rose Donnelly can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @RoseDonnelly_.