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Double Dog Dare

Gabriela Leskur | Wednesday, December 11, 2013

During Fall Break, I spent a lot of time back in Cleveland at a local coffee shop. By myself, for hours a day, I would read books and drink coffee. Peace, calm, contentment – all things that I hadn’t enjoyed in a long time.
What was keeping me from these things? I couldn’t help but wonder. And I couldn’t help myself remember.
As I packed up my books and clothes and headed back to my home in Farley Hall, I realized the only person keeping me from the peace I was seeking in my life was me. I realized I said yes to so many opportunities that I never gave myself time to just sit on my futon or sit in a coffee shop and read books.
So I dared myself to say no to things: the opposite of that Jim Carrey movie, “Yes Man.”
My problem was that I was a Yes Girl. I said yes to everything, afraid of missing out, afraid of silence, afraid of stillness.
Every moment was spent with other people or spent doing something productive. I rarely gave myself any time to slow down and breathe.
After Fall Break, though, things all changed.
I remember one day my two good friends asked me to study with them. It was right after we returned from Fall Break. And for once, I said no.
This was in sharp contrast to before Fall Break when I used to study with them every single night. Every single night I had so much fun with them. Every single night I wasn’t alone. Every single night I got basically no homework done. Every single night I went to bed past two a.m. Every single night I got no sleep.
Before my coffee shop revelation, I thought that was a good thing. I thought it was good to have a core group of people I hung out with every day, good to always be having a good time, good to be constantly on the go. But with that first no, and the many that followed, I found it’s not that simple.
When I said no to studying with my friends, I instead had dinner with an old friend and had a heart to heart with a freshman in my section. I did some reading for class. I went to bed before 11. I got 9 hours of sleep. And in the morning, I went to the Grotto before heading to class.
For the first time in a long time, I felt free.
It’s so easy to get locked up in the go-go-go mentality of Notre Dame. Before Fall Break, my schedule had become as fixed and repetitive as the “lather, rinse, repeat” on the back of a shampoo bottle: wake up, shower, get dressed, go to work, go to class, go to lunch, go to class, go to work, go to dinner, go to Folk Choir, go to study, go to hang out with friends, go to sleep. Repeat 100 times.
Since saying no, my schedule doesn’t feel like it’s suffocating or constraining me. Since saying no, I have time not only for friends and fun and work and conversation, but also, for silence and stillness and contemplation.
It seems counterintuitive when we live in a place as lively and full of opportunities as Notre Dame. To say no to an opportunity goes against everything that got us into this school in the first place. We got in because we said yes to AP classes, yes to student government positions, yes to playing varsity sports, yes to acting in plays, yes to responsibilities. In essence, we said yes to every opportunity that could further our future.
But we can’t say yes to everything.
I began to ask myself, “Why am I saying yes to studying with my friends?” If the answer was simply because I wanted to see them, then I should say yes. But if my answer was because I didn’t like the thought of being alone even though I had a ton of work to do and knew I would get no work done with them, well, then maybe I should say no.
Another thing that I realized in my journey through No-ville: saying no to something is just saying yes to something else.
When I say no to a party, I’m really saying yes to watching the Irish Bachelorette with my roommate. When I say no to dinner, I’m really saying yes to a nap. When I say no to studying with my friend, I’m really saying yes to actually being productive.
“Yes” and “no” are not inherently good or bad. Saying no is not a bad thing, if we’re saying no for the right reasons. Similarly, saying yes is not a good thing, if we’re saying yes for the wrong reasons.
To feel free in my hectic life, I didn’t have to say no to everything or yes to everything. I just had to be honest with myself and do what was best for me.
Contact Gabriela Leskur at gleskur@nd.edu
 The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.