Sometimes You Have to Say No.
I suffer from a disease common to many academics — the inability to say no. We start learning it in grade school. Read more library books than anyone else in your class? Easy! Get the highest score on the test? Of course. Volunteer to clean erasers? Me! Do more math problems than the teacher requires? Sure. That’s fun. Be the first one finished with the test? Every time!
And it continues throughout the public school years. Make the Honor Roll every grading period.?Yep! Qualify early for National Honor Society? Get the highest score on the SAT/ACT exams? Apply for every scholarship? It goes without saying.
College and grad school are a little different because the competition is more intense, but it’s still there. Those of use destined to become academics say yes to every request, even the most ridiculous, because if we don’t do it, someone else will. Even after I was solidly installed in a great liberal arts college with tenure, I won a prize (a coffee cup) for being the first one to get my book order in.
It’s a disease, and I can’t help it. But sometimes saying yes can be downright dangerous. I reached that point the other day in my physical therapy session. The therapist had me standing on my injured leg, while I did leg lifts and knee bends with the other. When she called out to do “twenty more!” I was in tears with the pain. But did I stop? No, of course not. And I paid for it the next day when I could not move that bad leg.
Finally, I said NO! And when I told her I wasn’t ready for that step yet, I expected the sky to fall in. Instead, she grinned and commented that it was about time I admitted to reaching my limit. Now the sessions are much easier, and I can once again see steady progress. I’m now walking with almost a normal gait, albeit with the support of a walker.
And you know what? It’s really liberating! Too bad I waited so late in life to discover that.