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A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a blog post halfway down the first page of Google titled “The Simplest Ways To Happiness.” I usually steer clear of headlines like this which often seem to repeat the same advice, but I clicked anyways. The page was dedicated to some sort of challenge urging readers to say “yes” to all of the opportunities thrown their way. 

“Saying yes adds spice and variety to our lives. Every great thing started with the right attitude … a ‘Yes!’ attitude!” it read. At first glance, this philosophy seems like the perfect plan — one that it feels like many of the always busy, completely well rounded, and highly involved students at Penn have mastered. But much like drinking eight liters of water because you read that it was good for you and then having to relocate to the bathroom for the next five hours, you can have too much of a good thing. I learned the hard way that saying “yes” to everything can leave you exhausted and resentful.

Before I came to Penn, I pretty much said “yes” to every kind of position or opportunity presented to me. “Do you want to start this new club that we realistically have no time to devote to or keep up?” Yes. “Should we keep being friends even though we kind of hate each other and I tear you down every chance I get?” Yeah, sure, I guess it’ll be easier that way. “Let’s keep seeing each other even though I don’t take you seriously because I don’t want to be alone right now.” Cool. I wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw, I wanted my life to embody the movie “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” I wanted to effortlessly balance an insane amount of obligations, friendships, and relationships all while being constantly put together.

In my mind, everything I was doing was leading up to some fantastic life concept that I had been mapping out since I was 12: do every possible extracurricular so that you can get into the school and have the job of your dreams, overwork yourself every single day so that you never lose sight of a 4.0 GPA, agree to every single social event on your calendar, occasionally maintain toxic relationships because it’s easier than confronting people who upset you. I figured that if I said “yes” enough, there would be nothing left to say "no" to. I would have done it all. I would have successfully remodeled myself into the person I always wanted to be by taking life by the horns and never letting a single opportunity pass me by. But what goes up must come down, and come down it did.

The result was basically an exasperated shell of the person I used to be, and this continued to some extent into my freshman year. I felt like I was tangled up in life and did not know which way to turn. I had allowed people who had the furthest thing from my best interest at heart into my life because I wanted so badly for the idea I had created of them to match their reality. I was working too much, sleeping too little, and not taking care of myself at all. I knew that it was time to start downsizing, and my life is all the better since I did.

No part of this column is aiming to say that you should not chase great opportunities. You should — but first, consider it realistically in terms of how the responsibility, the relationship, or the workload will affect you. You do not have to say “yes” to everything, and in my honest opinion and own experience, you shouldn’t. Say yes to the things that are important to you, to your growth, and to who and what you want to be right now as well as in the future. It can be incredibly difficult to not compare what you’re doing to what the people around you are, or avoid getting into “I’m busier, more stressed, and more accomplished than you” battles. 

Try to look inwards instead of out. If you feel like you’re stretched too thin, know that it’s okay to put yourself first. Deciding that I was going to stop mentally and emotionally draining myself to keep up appearances and chase some false sense of “having it all” dramatically changed the way I see and move through the world. To quote Fantasia in her iconic 2010 song of the same name, “I’m doin’ me.” 

ISAMI MCCOWAN is a College sophomore from Durham, NC studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. Her email address is isami@sas.upenn.edu.  

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