“Unfortunately with my classes and other research/extracurriculars going on, I don’t know if I will have enough time to commit the amount of hours you want this fall.”
This sentence that took me 45 minutes to write — not including the hours I spent staring at “email Liz and Mirriam about fall!” on my to-do list for three straight weeks.
I avoided this task for so long not because I wasn’t sure if I should continue — I knew (and four hectic weeks into the semester can confirm) that it would have required a Harry Potter-esque spell to carve out the extra hours in my week. I worded and reworded the email a hundred times because I winced at the thought of telling them that I was quitting.
In high school, I never had to say no or quit. Yes I can lead multiple clubs, captain a championship soccer team, take five AP classes and still get a good (well, sufficient) amount of sleep. But in high school, opportunities were more finite, to the point that quitting and the word “no” felt like they had negative connotations. Doing either signaled defeat. So I spent a semester and a half of college spread far too thin before acknowledging that quitting or turning down an opportunity was okay.
What began as navigating through the February rain to get to my Spanish professor’s office hours ended with tears to match the gentle downpour. Upon realizing the most pressing thing on my mind probably wasn’t my poorly conjugated essay on “La casita de sololoi,” my professor asked me how I was doing, and I cracked.
I told her I felt like a waitress carrying a million cups and plates with my classes and commitments, to which she encouraged me to pass/no pass her class for the sake of my sanity. She told me to be easier on myself. No Berkeley student (or anyone, for that matter) can do everything, nor should they be expected to do everything. And people like Liz and Mirriam know that.
Why, then, did I still feel guilty pass/no passing her class? Why did it take me so long to send an email saying I would not have time to continue with the research when I had a perfectly valid reason to depart?
On the rare occasion that I do tell someone no, I feel like I am letting them down. Because I am leaving, I’m forcing the asker to find someone else, a replacement. I fear that a decision not to continue with or join the person emits an attitude of, “I have better things to do, sorry.” And I don’t want to disappoint them, or anyone.
Beyond a feeling of defeat or disappointment, I worry that the relationships I had established will be tarnished or severed, or that I’m missing out on those I could have formed. These relationships are what I value most in life — I love learning about others and what we have in common or where we differ.
As a senior graduating into the COVID-19 job market, I also can’t deny the fact that these connections could, hypothetically, be the link to my dream job…or any job at all. But like my Spanish professor said, “No puedes hacer todo.” That is something I am still learning to accept.
It takes time to figure out what you really want to do and what you have time for. Life is all about trial and error and exploring different opportunities, some of which we will have to quit or say “no” to along the way. More importantly, the bonds you form with others can remain, even if you’re no longer seeing them at weekly club meetings or working in their lab.
In numerous college applications, I wrote about how my greatest strength was my ability to live in the present. They centered around making the most of every opportunity, and the relationships I have formed as a result of doing so. And while I stand by what I wrote, I now realize these same ideas also contribute to my greatness weakness: saying no.
I thought living in the present meant “yes, yes, yes,” living life to the fullest, carpe diem! But it also, selectively, means “no, no, no” — taking the time to assess your workload and your mental health, to realize the five unit Spanish class on top of your 14 other units and extracurriculars is something you can proudly pass/no pass.
Similarly, my relationships are the reason I feel like I am letting others down when I tell them “I can’t.” I worry about disappointing others because I care. And perhaps the reason quitting or saying no can feel like defeat is because I set high expectations for myself. Because I care.
A good friend once told me, “Don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” And while I would love to be able to send my “Unfortunately I can no longer continue” emails without a second thought, I am thankful for my hesitation, even if it means sometimes setting myself aflame. I am thankful to have found passions I would further pursue if time allowed, and I am thankful to have found positions and people that are hard for me to part with.
When it takes me 45 minutes to craft those emails, it comes from my heart. But balancing my heart with everything else on my plate is what I must work on so that I’m able to carry my tray of dishes with confidence and composure.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall’s semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.