Written by Davis Nguyen
I’ve always had a hard time saying “no,” until saying “no” was the only thing keeping me from ending up in the hospital this month.
When I first moved to San Francisco a year ago, I didn’t have much of a social base being 2,500 miles from home and 3,000 miles from where I went to college.
To fill the void, I started joining volunteer groups at and outside of work. The committees at work and non-profit organizations I joined started to slowly solve my want for a social community. I met people I normally wouldn’t have met, create memories that otherwise wouldn’t have existed, and slowly found my community in the city.
A year later, I have no problem picking up the phone and having someone come over for dinner. But last month, I started noticing the side effects of being so committed. As my social time increased, my personal time declined.
This month a number of my commitments ran into unexpected obstacles that needed to be solved quickly. I encountered a problem I’d never experienced in my life: there was just not enough energy in me to do everything despite staying up 7 days to the AMs. I was near exhaustion every night.
When it was all done and I could finally breathe, I was happy with the results but saddened by the price. I finally understood what “too much of a good thing is a bad thing” meant. Instead of being energized by volunteer work, I felt drained. When the last event concluded, I just went back home and fell on my bed. It was first time I remember such a restful sleep since the cascade of commitments came down.
But besides the positive communal results that came from this period, there emerged a personal result: I learned to say "no." During this intense period, the request for my time didn’t stop, but it was the first time since moving to San Francisco I just said “no” without hesitation. Not to anyone’s surprise, the world didn’t stop and the people who asked me simply asked someone else.
I wish this lesson didn’t have to come when my health was declining, but I am glad I learned it. Learning to say no is tough, but I remind myself that if I say yes to something, I am saying no to everything else. In the end, I want to be in control of what I say no to.
Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.