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Learning to say no

Portrait entry for September 2007 Black and white portrait entry for 2006 2007

As far as I can remember, I have thrived on being busy. I love the feeling of simultaneously juggling multiple projects. My first year of university was like that, with six courses and more committees and clubs than you could shake a stick at. As soon as I woke up, I would start working on something and my day would be filled with classes, meetings and events. I considered eating a waste of time, so I would eat while I walked from place to place. Two birds with one stone. I also considered going to the bathroom a waste of time, so I would take my readings with me as I did my business. I would stay up all hours of the night and would often fall asleep with my fingers still resting on my laptop keyboard. If you asked me to take on something, I would say yes without missing a beat, no matter how crazy my schedule was. I could do it all. And it was only reaffirmed for me when all the dust settled and my grades came back as straight As.

So things continued along at that pace. There were a few mental breakdowns along the way, when I would be so overwhelmed that I would be reduced to a mass of stress and tears. Those were far enough apart that it still made the workaholism seem like it was worth it. But it eventually caught up with me, I eventually started getting overwhelmed far too often and things would start unravelling.

In retrospect, I should have learned after the first time, or the second time, or even the third. But that was the danger of success. Every time I could successfully navigate a semester with umpteen on my plate, I'd somehow manage to receive scholarships, awards and general recognition. And my competitive nature decided it wasn't enough to beat everyone else, I had to beat myself too. I had to up the ante. I would see if I could balance umpteen things plus one. Plus two. Plus infinity. Things eventually fell apart and I crashed hard.

The truth is, it's really hard for me to lower a standard that's I've set for myself, especially when you've gone through so much of your life as an overachiever. And if I'm really honest with myself, the hardest part is admitting to myself... to everyone, that I simply wasn't capable of doing everything. It seems like such a simple thing, "you can't do everything". But for the longest time, conceding to that statement was akin to proclaiming weakness. Pride. Hubris.

Old habits die hard. But today, for the first time in a very long time, I said no.

Buy a new futon, lunch with friends, food shopping, edit a 300-page manuscript and transcribe several interview tapes. That was only part of the list I had made for this week, the rest related to the photo competition at Markham Fair: sort through thousands of pictures; pick out my top 20; develop them; mount them; take them to Markham and come back in time for the Medieval Faire. No problem. I can do it all. And then some.

Last year, I had won numerous awards at the Markham Fair for my photos and ... well, I was eager to repeat that again this year. Up the ante. Bigger and better. Stop. I realized I've been down this road far too many times. And I worry. It was easy to do these things when I was single. I could run myself ragged and not have to worry about anyone else, but that's not the case anymore. I worry because there is someone and she's important and it amazes me how easily I get caught up in work and the relationship gets quietly sidelined. When it starts crossing my mind that I need to pencil in my girlfriend in order to make time for her, that's a warning sign.

So I said no. I crossed the photo competition off the list, reasoning that there's always next year. I wish I could say I felt empowered as a reuslt, but I didn't. In fact, I felt somewhat melancholy about the entire thing, because I had been looking forward to it for a really long time. But I'll get over it. It means I'll get to enjoy my Friday afternoon having coffee with a friend and sharing stories of the summer rather than spending the entire day stressing out about whether or not I would submit my entries on time. If I really think about it, there are so many other things in my life that bring me such joy right now.

Like dressing up in Medieval garb this weekend and selling "magical jumping beans" to children.

Comments (7)


good call. you have to know when its in your best interest to not play a hand.

this year i have an insane amount to do, next year i will take it easier.

One day I hope to be able to beat Kenny Rogers in a game.


Good call. With you out of the way i'll have a better chance of placing with my polaroids at the fair.



I think only I would ever dare say that to you.
We're elitists remember?


Hey Jason!
Just wanted to let you know that I am now a regular reader of your blog. That is too bad you had to miss submitting your pictures to the Markham fair, they were so good! But you are right, you can always do it next year.
I'm also very glad you enjoyed the coffee and that you got to experience a little bit of Halifax again even if you didn't get to go there. Good luck at the Medevil Fair this weekend. Oh, and I still want to buy some jumping beans from you!

Yee Yee:

Oh, Jason... I'm so sorry to hear that you missed submitting your entries for the photo contest... I really wish that we could have helped. We didn't get back from our weekend getaway until late that Saturday evening. I guess your beautiful picture taking skills will have to hold off until next year. :)

ionolsen20 I just don not have anything to say right now.www_4_2

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