How to Say No and Not Feel Guilty

Harvard students do too much

Sometimes, you just get that nagging little feeling that tells you that you should stop doing something because it’s too hard, too time-consuming, not interesting etc. etc.

BUUT, then you’re alter-ego kicks in and says, but you’ve spent so much time on it already! If you quit, it’ll all be for naught.

OR, they are relying on you! You need to be dependable or else it’ll look bad.

OR, if you suffer through it….it’ll look GREAT on your resume!!!

Here’s a few tips I’ve learned over the years on saying no gracefully and shamelessly. It’s improved my standard of living muchly so, thank you.

1) Let’s assume you have that nagging sensation

I’m going to limit the scope of what this post is trying to address. I’m going to *assume* that you’re getting a sense that something’s amiss or not quite working out.

I worked my butt off to get onto an organization, but then once I was on it, I was lost and purposeless. I didn’t really liked what I was doing, and I ended up dragging my feet for a semester or two before quitting because I had invested so much time that it seemed like a shame to just quit.

2) Trust your gut

The funny thing is that we all have a pretty good sense of intuition. It’s driven us down this path that has somehow led us to Harvard.

In more concrete terms, your gut told you that you should stick with ballet, or that you should really take that Chemistry AP class even though it kicks everyone’s GPA’s in the gonads, or that you should write a sonnet for your application essay etc. etc.

On a daily basis, it lets you know when to stay awake during class, which parts of the book to review, and whether or not you can trust your study partner.

All in all, it’s proven itself at keeping you afloat. And so, when it’s nagging at you, get off your over-analytical high horse and just listen to it. It’s gotten you this far, after all.

3) Quit early and gracefully

Having been a leader in student organizations, I know it’s a pain in the ass when you think you have someone on board, but in reality, they’re waffling or flip flopping or just plain old sitting on the fence twiddling their thumbs and being non-committal. It’s not nice. It happens more than it’s fair share because Harvard students are over-committing.

In short, it’s annoying. I’d rather just have someone quit. Or, say they’re not sure about what they can commit to. If you didn’t totally blow us off or destroy our organization in the process, then chances are, if we liked you once, we’ll like you when / if you decide to come back.

That way, I can start finding other people. Or start delegating. Or just do something instead of feeling like a d-bag for pestering you. So, please save everyone a headache and just let us know you don’t have the time to do it right now. We understand.

4) How to do it nicely

Depending on the relationship, let them know you’ve appreciated the time / growing experience / opportunity. Say that you don’t have the time to fully commit right now and you don’t want to lead them on and promise them things you can’t deliver. Say that you’ll be interested in coming back potentially if possible. Say thank you. Etc. etc.

See, not so bad. If you’ve already been slacking and you getting yourself to do what you’ve committed to is like pulling teeth, this is how you know you need to write that “Sorry, but I need to quit” letter.

We won’t hate you for it. But we just might if you flake out. :)

5) Is it worth the stress?

While you’re waffling and trying to get yourself to do what you promised, if you find yourself:

  • Magically avoiding working on what you’ve been asked to do
  • Magically avoiding further responsibilities
  • Dreading responding to your superiors’ emails on why you’re not doing your work
  • Feel confused about why you can’t bring yourself to do anything
  • Find yourself brooding over how long it took you to get the opportunity
  • Find yourself brooding over all the benefits you’d get if you could just do your work

Well, these are signs you should just quit. If you’re not doing the work and you’re stressing yourself about not doing the work and don’t want to do the work and tying your undies in a knot, just save yourself a headache and drop it.

6) The “Pretend You Just Quit” Test

My FAVORITE litmus test is pretending for 1 day that you’ve quit the organization or class or job. And then, seeing if your mood changes the next day.

If you’re perkier and walk with a bounce in your step, seal the deal and quit.

If you find yourself missing the people you worked with, or missing the work and responsibilities, etc. etc., then you know you should stick with it.

7) Flip a coin!

If the above provides ambiguous answers because you’re an emotionally complex individual, then flip a coin. If you’re okay with the choice, then you make that choice. If you’re NOT okay with the choice and feel bummed, then make the other choice damnit.

(This is also useful when ordering food at restaurants.)

8) Kill the shame

Ain’t no shame. Consider your time like a checkbook. You don’t want any overdraft charges, and there’s no point in paying money (since time is money) to do something you hate.

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