How About No?

How About No? | New Faculty


I’ve done a lot of work this summer–on myself. Strange as it may sound, personal growth is the key to happiness, or sanity if we’re being brutally honest here. The fine undergrads that I had to work with this summer definitely noticed, as perceptive young minds usually do and one day at a research meeting, they approached me and said, “hey dr. new faculty, you’re like this bear.”

YES!!!!!  I’m saying no to people.

Apparently my undergrads got some of those “no’s” on a regular basis. I reminded myself of the mom in the Oscar Mayer hot dog commercial. The undergrads also said I reminded them of Christina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy for being brutally honest all of the time. While some may shrink away from this kind of feedback, I got real excited.


Because for the previous two years on faculty, I’d done nothing but say yes. All.of.the.time. I was saying yes so much, I was even annoying myself. I was saying yes, being too available, and generally serving as my own worst enemy. I’d say ‘yes’ to almost anything–even things I had no interest in doing.

**disclaimer, there are times in life when we have to say yes, i’m aware of this.

Prime example:

My friend loves fantasy football (FF). It’s great. I’m glad he likes it. But, guess how much I care about FF?


But, for reasons unbeknownst to me until this summer, when he asked if I wanted to join, I said, “sure” without giving it a thought.

Until a few weeks ago.

(Jibberish that ran through my mind):

  • “why do you want to play?” (you don’t, you were trying to be nice & agreeable like you thought a friend should be)
  • “do you REALLY give to s*^s about FF?” (no)
  • “why did you say yes then?” (b/c you’re a sucker)
  • “can you get out of this?” (yes)
  • “will anyone die a terrible death as a result?” (no)
  • “will your friend be truly upset?” (probably not)
  • “why are we still having this conversation? (just say no)

So I did. 

I’m sure you’re thinking, “uugghhh, FF, no brainer, really?” but it translates into the other parts of life and if you have these crazy thoughts that run around in your head like this, you know what I’m talking about. No one died, my friend was clearly not upset, in fact, he should have been pretty happy b/c I would have been the most terrible FF player in the world who never checked on the ‘league’ or did the whole player swap every week.

This translates to my professional life as well. My boss has done a great job mentoring me and vetting me for whatever might come next. He really has and I’m not just saying that because I’m in public. He has done great work and I continue to be grateful that we have not both killed each other with glares, sarcasm, and 1 million comments in MS Word when working on manuscripts. He’s a good guy. However, he has also been “Dr. Yang” to my doormat tendencies with me when I’ve needed it. And one area where I need it:


I’ve blogged about it. It was pretty bad. But it took me a long time to finally “get it” and really have it sink in. I posted about that as my “new year’s goal” and for once, I’ve not let it slide. I’ve faltered here and there but after a good summer of soul searching, working through my burn out, and dealing with some old demons, I think I might finally get “it.”

The “it” that says to my brain:

stop what you’re doing & do what you want to do (and need to do to pay your bills but hey, that’s life right?)

I don’t care if the undergrads give me a hard time & find some bear meme’s and call me Dr. Yang. I consider it a term of endearment at this point because they’re great, they’re becoming good researchers, and we go get fro-yo almost every week. If the FF friend is upset, he can be. I can’t keep investing in things I didn’t want to really do and that was MY fault for saying yes in the first place.

These are two small and almost unimportant examples, but they do relate into professional settings.

I said yes a lot for over a year and I was a miserable mess of mania by the end. I had to stop. I had to embrace the burn out and accept that I couldn’t be everywhere at every time. I had to embrace that all my pubs would not go to journals w/ high index ratings and that the odds I’d piss off an undergrad at least once (a day, a week, a month, every second) were going to be pretty high. I also had to accept myself as I was. Gray hairs, adult acne, left brain dominant human being and start just going with it. That’s not to say I don’t know I have ‘work’ to do and will certainly continue doing it. But I quit ignoring it. I quit hiding out or behind it. And I owned it. Facing who I was as a faculty was pretty tough. It wasn’t the most glamorous look in the mirror I’d ever taken, but it was an honest one. It also mirrored who I was as a person in my personal life and let’s face it: we’ve all got some bad habits we’d like to work on.

I’m learning to let things go and go with the flow. I’ve learned this summer to be the “how about no” bear when it comes to negotiating my personal and professional happiness. By setting clear boundaries for myself and the people in my life, I’ve learned (slowly but surely) that the people who want to invest personally and professionally will be there, no matter how Dr. Yang I get on them. As the new semester begins and we’re surely all swamped, I hope you can take the time to work on your “how about no” bear attitude and take good care of yourself this semester.

I know you’ve got your syllabi prepped, your CMS loaded, and your TA is a grading fool, but do yourself a favor and take stock from time to time. Like Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

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