college lifestyle peace corps

Why You Should Stop Saying “Yes” to Everything

Whew. This one has been such a hard lesson, and I’m amazed that I’m able to write about it now. I recently was in a job where we were encouraged to say “yes” to everything. Granted, being in the Peace Corps is about community integration, and a lot of that means putting yourself out there for new experiences.

But when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was so quick to place the needs and wants of my community above my own self-care. My mental health was in a downward spiral so fast that I didn’t even recognize myself. I traded time with people I loved, hesitated to report the dangerous things I’d been through, and sacrificed doing what I enjoy in the name of community integration. And I so wish I hadn’t. Here’s why.

It is logically impossible to say “yes” to everything.

This is the econ major in me, but the more time you spend doing one thing, the less you have for anything else. If you’re saying “yes” to one thing, then you’re automatically saying “no” to another. So that means, if you’re saying “yes” to tea, or lunch at a stranger’s house, or volunteering for an event outside of your work hours, then you just said “no” to a day off, self-care time, or doing what you would have been otherwise.

When I was in college, when I volunteered in different places, and when I was in the Peace Corps, I didn’t see it that way. But it’s the truth. I drank the Kool Aid. I said “yes” to everyone except for myself, because I thought I was supposed to. You do not owe anyone your precious personal time that is set aside for your mental health. Please soak that in. I wish I had a long time ago!

You cannot assume that others will reciprocate.

Just because I was working my butt off in many areas of my life, through different phases of my life experiences, doesn’t mean others were. What I mean is this: I was naïve to assume that other people were sacrificing their personal time like I was.

The truth is, regardless of how hard you work or your contribution to a group project, an experience like Peace Corps or other volunteer work, you cannot expect others to put in the same. Sure, they might! But they also may not. There are so many times looking back that I overworked myself for little to no purpose. I could have taken that time for myself, doing yoga or baking some vegan treats, but I didn’t. And it’s time I’ll never get back.

Sometimes, you need to say “yes” to yourself.

This goes along with my whole point in writing this post. I did not say “yes” to myself nearly enough until recent months. As an introvert, alone time is really important for my self-care. In college, I always figured I’d just have some alone time later. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, later never came. There was always another assignment, another babysitting gig, another club meeting. And then after graduation, there was always another volunteer opportunity, another coffee date with friends, another errand to run.

I never took that time to say “yes” to myself until my Peace Corps dream screeched to a halt and I was forced to through therapy. Now that I freelance, I’m just now discovering some semblance of balance with work, family, and giving myself what I need.

Burnout is real, and it’s closer than you may think.

As I mentioned above, I was very good at saying “yes” to everything. But I was hollow inside, because for every “yes” to someone else, I said “no” to myself. By the time my medevac came, I was a shell of the person I used to be. I desperately needed to be poured into. It’s honestly a miracle I didn’t experience burnout in college or my volunteer experiences before Peace Corps. It was inevitable.

I don’t want that for other people. It was one of my most difficult experiences, and my old habits have been so hard to break. But I’m in a better place now, and I’m more ready than ever for a day where I feel zero guilt at picking myself every once in a while.

If you’re anything like me, then you get it. I know it’s hard, but you deserve to factor your needs into your decision-making process. Let’s lift each other up, and give our friends the space and encouragement they need to make their mental health a priority. I know I will.

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