This essay originally aired on October 29, 2015.
I believe in saying no.
But I am mulishly stubborn. I never back down. When you pair that with my Type A personality and overachieving nature, I am downright terrifying when I put my mind to something.
I was raised to believe that quitting is never an option. Saying no to an opportunity or a challenge was never an option. So what changed?
My first year at Penn State, I immediately signed up for the campus paper. I passionately threw myself into it. I spent hours in the newsroom. I made friends, developed my skills and fell even more in love with journalism.
The next two years proceeded in the same way. I spent hours in the newsroom and ate popcorn and coffee for dinner far too often. But it didn’t matter because I was a real journalist. For the first two years I was happy.
Eventually, I became a copy editor and spent roughly 30 hours a week in the office. I was sleeping four hours a night. I was falling asleep in class. I was barely staying on top of my scholarship requirements. The stress knots in my shoulders had stress knots of their own.
I was drowning, and I didn’t know how to pull myself out of it.
The worst part was I had stopped enjoying my time at the paper. I stayed out of a twisted sense of commitment and the misplaced belief that this was only way to prepare for life after college. My coworkers and I wore our exhaustion like a badge of honor. Life was stressful, but we were the elites. We were the last bastions of a dying breed of student print journalists. There was no use in complaining because there was no sympathy.
But still, I resented every moment spent in the office. Every morning, I woke up dreading the day. I hated it. I hated the stress and the exhaustion and the fact that I never ate a real meal or saw my friends. But I couldn’t walk away from my commitment.
Even the most stubborn people have their breaking point. And I found mine. It took an intervention from my parents to convince me that my health was more important.
So I did something I had never done before. I quit in the middle of the semester.
Saying no is the hardest act. It sounds easy. But I used to view it as a sign of weakness. After stepping down, I felt overwhelming relief. But it took me a long time to get to that place.
I now believe that saying no is a sign of strength. Having the courage to say no when something you love is hurting you —a job, a friend, a habit — takes more strength than staying static.
I’m grateful for the opportunities and experiences from my time at the paper. But since leaving, I’ve rediscovered the part of myself I lost. Saying no helped me remember why I loved journalism in the first place. I started working in multimedia, a decision that led me to Washington, D.C. to cover the papal visit. Saying no has given me far more than staying ever would.
Now, I’m not afraid to say no. I’m still stubborn, and I still honor every commitment. But I’m also able to realize that some commitments aren’t worth my health. Now I’m focused less on being the girl who handles everything and more on being happy and healthy. I believe saying no is one of the bravest things I can do.
Mary Chuff is a former WPSU intern.