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The Courage to Say No

It was 9:00pm on a Saturday night. I was struggling to keep my eyes open after being at a conference all day. Must. Keep. Writing. I was contemplating having my third coffee for the day but decided against it. I needed to be up at 6:30am the next day. Here’s what I was doing:

I was brainstorming ideas for activities I could do to get more Experiential Credit points for the GLP. I know what you’re thinking. Surely that sense of urgency was not necessary. It’s not like I was writing an essay that was due at midnight. I mean I could brainstorm Experiential Credit ideas tomorrow.

You know the GLP Excellence Awards? Those prestigious awards that are given out to a handful of exemplary GLP students each year. I told myself at the 2017 awards night that I would get one of those one day. After that night, my GLP experience was driven by numbers. What would get me the most Experiential Credit points? New opportunity? How many points? Where could I jam it into my schedule?

This mindset has gotten progressively worse. This semester I committed to a lot of GLP activities in the hopes that I would take my experiential tally to well over 200 and make my GLP transcript look extra sparkly. I also worked and undertook some extra-curricular uni activities. Somewhere along the way, I forgot that I need (ahem) things like sleep, exercise, food and a social life.

The perpetual bags under my eyes evidenced this. As did my decreasing productivity. Time is a finite resource and I was using mine carelessly. I’ll give you an example:


Hi Lotus,

Would you be able to spend a few extra hours working on that task from home this week?”


“Hi there,

Of course I can. I will have that done by Sunday.


“Oh my gosh, how will I fit this in my schedule”

“I’ll have to miss coffee with my friends this week to do it”

[Doesn’t do it]

[Now Sunday 6:30pm]

[Starts work]

“I. Wish. I. Had. Not. Said. Yes. To. This.”

[Goes to bed at 11:00pm]

Does this sound like you? Why do we do this to ourselves?

Greg McKeown, the author of ‘Essentialism’, says that we live in a world with too much choice and too much social pressure. He claims we have lost sight of what is most important to us so we try to do it all.

Ironically, I have had this quote stuck up in my room for the past 9-months. Note to self: read the stuff on your walls, it’s relevant.

“You can do anything, but not everything.”

You are not a bad person if you say no. If people are going to respect you less because of that, that’s their problem, not yours.

The reality is that we don’t have all the time in the world, we have 24-hours in each day and when you factor in sleeping for 8 of those, it’s really not a lot. When you think about picking your GLP activities, think: What does this bring me? How does this help me achieve my personal and professional goals? Do I really want to do this? If the answer is no, don’t do it!

For a very long time, I answered these questions with: “it gives me X number of points”. That answer was the end that justified the means. Get the points to get the award.

The problem was that it wasn’t a good goal to start with. The GLP Excellence Awards recognise people who are doing remarkable things to impact our world. I was defeating the purpose of the award by making it a goal to win it. What happens if I didn’t win the award? Would that make all the activities I had done a waste?

I would certainly hate to think so. I’ll never know because it’s not one of my goals anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still apply. But the goal for me now is applying, not winning.

You have two choices in life.

The nonessentialist:

You overcommit. You overextend. You say yes when that voice in the back of your head screams that you should have said no. You are constantly busy, working to a deadline and stressed. You prioritise work and study over sleep, exercise, friends and relationships. You constantly feel overwhelmed. Then you get an amazing mark on an assignment or your boss says you’ve done an amazing job on your project. You do it all again like clockwork.

The essentialist:

Is selective with what they do with their time. Is comfortable saying no. Lives a balanced life. Performs well at work. Sleeps enough, exercises regularly, socialises. Gets great results without sacrificing their personal time. Recognises when they need help and asks for it. Does not continue to do something if it is impacting their quality of life.

It’s hard to make the second choice. But I’m going to try.

For me, the GLP is an excellent program that allows us to find our path, our voice, our passions, our people. It is an injustice to reduce these experiences to numbers. I am very excited to continue my GLP journey as an essentialist. I think I will find some amazing activities to do that truly align with who I aspire to be.

I hope you do too.

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