The Power of Saying No

I was fortunate to be a part of this awesome project by Lauren McCann in which upperclassmen write letters to their freshman selves a way for future students to see themselves in the advice of others. I love the concept, and I encourage everyone to check out the site and submit their own.

Dear Penn Freshman,

I spend a lot of time pontificating, but when I am asked to give advice about college life (as I have for this blog), I struggle. Four years go by quickly, and I cannot say I am any more prepared to meet the challenges of adult life than you are.

Sometimes, when I am lying in bed unable to sleep, I find myself thinking about the role chance has played in shaping my college experience. What are my chances of meeting someone I like at a concert? Or someone with similar interests? Or someone I can recommend music at two in the morning? I asked myself these questions during my freshman year, because I was unwilling to reach out to these people directly.

Indeed, some of the most interesting people you will meet at college, many of whom will become your best friends, you will meet by chance. This fact sometimes alarms me, since the decision to go to one party over another could change my life. I attended a very small private high school with around 200 students, and chance usually brought together people with shared aspirations, hobbies, and outlooks on life. You will soon discover waiting for chance is futile.

Be selective in choosing how you use your time. Do not commit to more than you can handle.

I overestimated how much I enjoyed chasing down clubs, and looking back, I find myself wishing I had spent more time with those who were important to me. Learn to say “no”, otherwise you will end up stressed and overworked.

Invite friends to lunch as often as possible. Do not second guess when reaching out to people you suspect share your passion. The worst that could happen is that they will feel bothered for a few minutes, but they will go back to their lives. Many of the students you will talk to during your first few months on campus won’t talk to you since then, and that is okay. Freshman year is when a lot of college relationships take shape, and only you have the power to revive them.

Do not think you are alone. You are very bright, and you are going to be studying at one of the best universities in the country. Tomorrow, you might find yourself riding a punt in Oxford, attending a Bob Dylan concert, or watching Casablanca with two great friends. You will meet some of the most intelligent, passionate, beautiful, thoughtful, creative, and honest people in the world in the next four years, as well as some of the most important people in your life. You have a lot to look forward to, I’m certain.

This letter is as much for me as it is for you. I am writing this in the early hours of the morning, before I go to sleep, because writing this letter is itself a small way of making time for myself. Being a junior, I still have one more year to make up for time wasted. Hopefully, you will have gleaned a kernel of wisdom by the time I finish my penultimate year at Penn.

Wishing you best of luck,


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