In her book The Soul Tells a Story, Vinita Hampton Wright says, “In order to say yes to one thing, I must nearly always say no to something else.” I have found this to be true in my own life. For example, if I say yes to watching television with my friends, I get caught up in the storyline and visual experience and become less inclined to create my own stories and word pictures. By saying yes to this experience with my friends, I am satisfied to live vicariously through others’ plot lines and story worlds; I say no to the story that I perhaps could have written if I was not spending my time in this way.
Even when I say yes to my writing, I am saying no to other things. If I choose to write a blog post or a poem for my own satisfaction, I say no to reading or writing for my classes during that time. When I only have a limited amount of time and creativity, saying yes to my academic responsibilities means saying no to the short story I could have written if I weren’t so burned out.
I’ve always been very aware that I can’t say yes to everything that I would like to do. Because participating fully in my classes is important to me, I have had to say no to extracurricular activities such as writing for my school newspaper. While I would like to do these things and I know that they would probably look good on my resume, I am afraid of over committing myself, and so I say no.
I want to say yes to my writing. I want to say yes to both the things I want to do and the things I know I ought to do. But when saying yes to one thing always means saying no to something else, how does one chose when to say yes and when to say no?
I try to prioritize, putting the things I absolutely must do first and occasionally peppering my day with the things I want to do, just so I don’t go crazy. I actually do accomplish quite a bit, although you wouldn’t know it sometimes by the way I talk. In the future, I’m going to try to affirm the things I have accomplished rather than mourning the things I couldn’t.
And perhaps it isn’t really “no” that I’m saying to these things, but “later.” Not as a cop-out, but as a promise. I may have to say “no” now, but I will say “yes” at some other time. Because I’m human, and I can’t do everything, but I do what I can.