Arrington: The Art of Saying Yes
Don’t stop yourself from growing and experiencing new things.
This column is featured in the 2021 Freshman special issue.
If you asked me if I knew who I was a year ago when I first came to Dartmouth, I would have said yes. I was wrong.
Of course, I knew some things about myself: I love a good story, I tend to be introverted and I care about politics — especially relating to social change. Being so sure of who I was — perhaps for the first time in my life — was a phenomenal feeling. I was comfortable taking up space. And yet, what I knew about my identity then also meant that I had a lot of preconceived notions about who I would and would not be in college, what I would and would not study and how I would and would not spend my time.
Here is the issue with that: knowing who you are does not equate to knowing who you are not. I was comfortable, especially when it came to saying no to opportunities that did not fit into my ideas about who I was.
I remember sitting at my computer a few weeks before the start of my freshman year. I was convinced I was going to double major in government and sociology, so much so that I mapped out an entire year of courses to fulfill prerequisites and take introductory courses in those fields. I proceeded to follow that schedule exactly: I took three government courses and one sociology class throughout freshman year — and I loved all of them. I learned about the sociological imagination, studied social movements, read political philosophers and familiarized myself with dozens of theories.
And yet, none of the courses I had so carefully selected were my favorite. In fact, my favorite class from that year was my first-year writing seminar, part of the humanities sequence I signed up for on a whim to fulfill my first-year writing requirement. Before coming to Dartmouth, I would have said no to a class like that in favor of one that I felt aligned more closely with my interests. But be as it may, I found so much solace in reading and discussing literature that I decided to swap out my intended government major for English.
A few weeks into fall term, I was still very much adjusting to the rigor of Dartmouth classes, as well as the fast-paced nature of the school as a whole. At that point, I had joined the staff of The Dartmouth and made a few other minor commitments around campus. I remember hearing about the Dartmouth Center for Social Impact’s Foundations in Social Impact, a year-long program for first-year students where they learn the basics about social impact and changemaking and consider their own leadership and communication styles. I was immediately drawn to the idea of growing my knowledge about social impact, something I had long been passionate about. And yet, the more I read about the program, the more I thought: I should definitely not apply. It was a significant time commitment, the application process looked competitive and it involved something called “consulting,” which seemed difficult and confusing. I came from a public school in Nowhere, Arkansas. In what world would it be a good idea for me to take on this commitment when I was still figuring out how to navigate the Ivy League?
I recounted these qualms to my mother, and she listened but told me to at least apply, rather than ruling myself out. Following her advice, I ended up participating in the program — and it was the highlight of my freshman year. I met a host of interesting people, discovered more about myself and who I want to be, learned both hard and soft skills and realized how nuanced social impact really is. I even got the opportunity to work with the Norris Cotton Cancer Center on a project disseminating information about lung cancer screening, which has the potential to save lives. I learned so much about the world and about myself, and I plan to stay involved with DCSI throughout the rest of my Dartmouth experience.
Halfway through my freshman fall, Dartmouth began to feel like home. I felt content with my classes, my involvements and my connections around campus. I remember having dinner with a friend when I received a GroupMe message: A classmate asked if anyone was looking to live together off-campus in the winter. I had not really been looking, but the girl asking seemed interesting, so I responded. We set up a lunch to talk, but the day of, I felt completely overwhelmed. It was the middle of midterm season, I had a ton of homework I needed to catch up on and I did not feel up to making small talk for an hour. I got so far as to take out my phone to cancel, but she had already texted that she was on her way. I went, expecting nothing to come of it other than some casual conversation. That lunch, however, resulted in me meeting one of my best friends to date, and, indirectly, led to me meeting several incredible individuals, without whom I now cannot imagine my Dartmouth experience.
As I am writing this, a year has passed since I was that nervous and excited incoming freshman. I still recognize the version of me I was a year ago, but I am also different in ways I never could have predicted. Reflecting on some of the most impactful experiences of the past four terms, I realize that so many of them almost never happened. I wanted to say no to taking a class in a different field, to trying something outside of my comfort zone, to meeting someone new. If I had, I would have remained unaware of a deep academic passion, I would never have experienced the personal and professional improvement that I have over the past year and I would have missed out on meeting multiple individuals who have altered my life for the better. Without these experiences, I would be a lot more similar to who I was a year ago; having never opened myself to new opportunities, I would have limited my own growth as a person.
Saying “no” is easy; that is probably why it is so often my default response to a new opportunity. Saying yes is more difficult. It challenges you, it forces you to ask difficult questions and it requires a lot of effort. Often, it means adventuring outside what is comfortable and exploring something different. However, saying yes is the most powerful tool for growth. I now know more about myself — more about what I am passionate about, more about what I love and more about what it is possible to do with life. Saying yes to new and sometimes scary opportunities brought me that knowledge, that much-needed change and growth.
Of course, in saying yes to new experiences, there is always the potential for taking on too much and becoming overwhelmed. Finding a balance between commitments that works for you is absolutely essential. However, when saying yes or no to a new opportunity, consider your reasons. Don’t let not wanting to leave the comfortable be a reason for saying no.
We only get four years at Dartmouth. Making the most of them means stepping outside the known. Try something new, be spontaneous and make decisions you wouldn’t have made before Dartmouth. Do not let being comfortable with the person you are now constrain who you might grow into. Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can — in other words, say yes.