Saying “No” in a “Yes” World

If you polled every graduate student on a given campus and asked them if they had ever pondered the above question (or some form of the question) before, nine times out of ten, the answer would be a resounding “YES!” and for very good reason.

Take a moment and hang your “Grad School Pro” cape in the closet for a quick minute and let me explain. To be quite honest, graduate students are socialized in ways to think that we can conquer the world. While I would argue that we are supernatural in some way (I mean, we have to be, right?), we are somewhat trained to believe that we are invincible…unstoppable…irreplaceable. We wear multiple hats and are constantly pulled in several directions, acting as all things to all people.

But here’s the reality. Each of us is only one person. We absolutely cannot do it all. As much as I love to dabble in a little bit of everything, over the past couple of semesters, I have kept this phrase in the back of my mind to reel me in when I begin to sink and have a seemingly permanent “yes” in my spirit: “Don’t be a jack of all trades and master of none”. As cliche as it sounds, balance is key. And sometimes, actually a lot of the times, saying “no” is the only way to strike that balance. In order to ¬†determine if an endeavor is worth my pursuit, I ask the following questions:

– Is this going to help me academically? (i.e. propel me toward research opportunities, provide me with chance to work with a faculty member, give me teaching/presenting experience)

– Is this a profitable networking opportunity? As graduate student, professional networks are vital for ensuring that we not only succeed in the here and now, but also land a career doing what we love.

– Is this going to drain me or leave me with no energy or time to do something that is of priority? If the answer to this is no, do not engage in it. Emotional and physical strength are crucial at this stage, and do your best to not let that become disrupted.

These along with a few more are guiding questions that I consider when taking on a new task. It’s impossible to do everything, so focus your efforts on doing a few that you can excel in. Prioritize and take care of first things first. And remember to be good to yourself!