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Just say no

| Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Quit that club! Switch your major! Just say NO!

As we start another semester and as Covid restrictions lift, a bevy of new opportunities becomes possible. Students will be flocking to activity fairs, passing out their emails more than freshman boys do their Snapchats at Domerfest and cramming their schedules tighter than Keenan boys’ pants during their strip number in the Revue. And though I support the common advice that you should join any and all activities you might be interested in, I feel it warrants reminding that you can quit activities too.

Odds are, by way of your being at Notre Dame, you’re the type of person who sticks with things. You persevere when the going gets tough, and you aren’t scared of hard work. But there’s a difference between hard work and work that doesn’t fill you up. There’s a difference between pushing yourself to do something outside of your comfort zone and forcing yourself to do something that makes you fundamentally unhappy.

The truth of the matter is, no matter how hard you try, you’re going to have to say no to something. Because your time is limited, every “yes” you reply is a “no” as well. When you say yes to one hangout, you’re saying no to the other plans you might have made. When you say yes to your major(s), you’re eliminating other possible courses of study. When you say yes to a campus job, you’re signing up to say no to clubs that meet during your shifts. 

Sometimes the “implicit no” works out well, like when you agree to go to the movies instead of sitting alone in your room. And sometimes the implicit no is a necessary bummer, like finishing an essay that’s due instead of going to an intramural game. But when you say yes to something that causes you repeated stress, when you commit to an activity that doesn’t bring you joy, you’re ultimately saying no to something that would. You’re saying no to a world of possibilities that could actually fulfill you.

When I was registering for classes my freshman year, my dad told me I should give Pre-Health Studies a try. This was good advice. I’ve never been much of a science fan, but I loved volunteering at my local children’s hospital in high school and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after graduation. Registering for STEM classes let me keep my options open.

My sophomore year — when I officially knew I didn’t want to do anything with medicine, when the Career Center staff told me my studies clearly weren’t making me happy, when my Pre-Health advisor (shout out to the wonderful Maureen Dawson!) wanted me to register for writing classes instead of the required Gen Chem II — I ignored the wisdom of everyone around me and decided that after three semesters, I was in too deep. If I stopped doing Pre-Health, it’d mean I couldn’t hack it. I told myself I’d started something freshman year, and I owed it to myself to see it through. This was bad advice.

By filling my schedule each semester with Pre-Health requirements, I didn’t have room for the ACMS major or Collaborative Innovation minor I actually wanted. By refusing to give up my Pre-Health supplementary major, I was still giving up things. But instead of giving up my sources of emotional turmoil, I was giving up studies that made me happy.

Only after I allowed myself to admit my current course of study wasn’t working for me was I able to make adjustments. I’ve now happily swapped my science electives for applied math ones; I’ve gotten to say “yes” to classes that I find interesting, exciting and fun. Everything worked out in the end, but if I’d just swallowed my pride and let myself quit earlier, I could have skipped many tear-filled nights of organic chemistry-induced stress that ultimately happened for no reason.

On the flip side, during my sophomore year, I joined a club that I’d been excited about for months, my head swirling with visions of a life-changing campus community. When I realized that every week I’d fill with dread in the days leading up to the organization’s meetings, I did the unthinkable: I quit. Endowed with a new chunk of free time in my schedule, I was able to take a job on campus that has since become one of the best parts of my time at Notre Dame. By leaving a club that wasn’t filling me up and joining a job that did, I did a service to both myself and that club. Taking part in an activity I was actually excited about, I found myself going the extra mile and working to make my work the best it could be, rather than phoning in a halfhearted effort out of a sense of obligation.

I thought for a long time that quitting something signified a failure of self-discipline. I worried other people would assume my stopping an activity meant I wasn’t dedicated enough, or changing a class meant I wasn’t smart enough. But I’ve since realized there’s a difference between quitting and giving up. There’s a difference between avoiding a challenge and relieving yourself of unnecessary emotional stress. There’s a commonly held belief that quitting is the easy way out. But I believe taking the time to reflect on what you want out of your semester, your college experience, your LIFE and then acting on it is much harder. 

Of course, there’s something to be said for giving a new activity a fair chance, but know when to trust your gut too. More often than not, the classes I found “suspicious” the first week of the semester were still suspicious the last week too. You know yourself better than anyone else. Be your own advocate and let yourself experience the best Notre Dame has to offer.

Obviously, every task you undertake cannot be the most fun you’ve ever had, but before you automatically decide to stick it out, make sure you take a moment to ask yourself why you’re keeping with it. Make sure the reason you’re forcing yourself to stay with a task your heart isn’t in is a good one. There are so many interesting things to learn about, so many different clubs to join, so many ideas and people and organizations that excite you! Don’t force yourself into a situation that doesn’t fit. You’ll shine best when you place yourself in situations that light you up inside.

As a new school year starts and the onslaught of emails urging you to apply for councils and join committees and sign up for a cappella groups looms ever closer, I just ask that you take the time to choose something that makes you really happy. Your resume will fill itself. Your degree will get finished. But your time at Notre Dame is fleeting. Make commitments that bring you joy, not stress.

Julianna Conley is a senior studying Sociology and Pre-Health Studies with a minor Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy.  Though she is forever loyal to Pasquerilla East B-team athletics, Julianna now lives off campus. She can be reached for comment at [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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