Gutierrez: The importance of saying no

Pallas Gutierrez, Opinion Editor

I’m Pallas Gutierrez, and I’m a chronic overcommitter. I’m taking steps to be better, and the first step is saying no.

It started in high school. I wanted to do everything, and I tried my best to do so. I was on the newspaper staff. I worked on every show. I fenced on the varsity team. And I’m grateful for all of those experiences, but sometimes I wonder if my high school experience would have been more enjoyable if I’d taken a break to spend some time with my friends.

I continued this trend when I got to Northwestern. I don’t want to list all my activities, because I’m tired of laundry lists that are half-complaining, half-bragging about how involved a student is at Northwestern. None of us should be proud of overcommitting. I love each and every one of my activities and all the different people I’ve met through them. But on days like this Sunday, when I have no time to myself from 10 am to 9 pm, I wonder if I need to do all of them.

Last year, I didn’t say no to anything. I actively sought out plays and musicals to work on, and when producers emailed me asking to work on their show in any capacity, I said yes. I had deeply internalized the idea that you should take every chance that comes your way. It meant working on back-to-back shows, running from meeting to meeting until I got back to my dorm and practically collapsed into bed.

This year, I started off trapped in the same toxic patterns. I designed three shows, applied for a chance to have my play produced and joined another student group. When I was offered an important role on a big show for the winter, I took a step back. I wanted to work on the production — the fact that I had been offered the position was an honor — but I knew that working on it meant I could only take on one other show that quarter.

I decided to do it. A few weeks later, I got offered shows in adjacent slots. I called my roommate, my best friend from home, my best friends here, and my partner, asking all of them the same question: Would I be crazy to say no?

The emphatic answer was, “No, take care of yourself.” So I did. I turned down the other shows. I made the decision to work on only two productions this winter and only one or two in the spring.

I know there are lots of other students at Northwestern like me, people who fill every minute of every day with activities and don’t leave themselves a second to breathe. But those seconds to breathe are important. I feel my best when I take an hour or two to myself to catch up on a favorite TV show, or work on one of my many personal projects in progress. Kathryn Augustine was right in her column that self-care can’t cure everything, but overloading yourself and not taking any personal time will only make other stress worse.

Maybe the first step is saying it out loud to yourself. “I am a chronic overcommitter. I don’t need to do all these things to be happy. Taking time for me is important. My time matters.” Surround yourself with friends who will encourage you to take a break, and try to find a moment to breathe.

Pallas Gutierrez is a Communication sophomore. They can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.