In high school I was on the newspaper staff. By senior year I had earned myself a full scholarship at one of the best local communications programs and was co-editor for our award winning paper. I was hands-down one of the best that my tiny conservative East Texas school had ever seen.
Late during that last year of High School, like many of my peers, I attended graduation parties - but none stood out like the one for my very best friend. We had been friends since day one of 5th grade and even when she transferred schools to join the swim team, we stayed close. Of all the graduation parties (including my own that didn’t really happen) I was looking forward to hers the most.
Her party was on the last day of school before graduation. I was finished with finals and the final newspaper issue of the year had been submitted for publication. I had cleaned out my locker and packed my car with all my belongings from my locker and the newspaper room (that was like my second home) and I was thoroughly ready for the drive out to the lake for the party. As I headed out the door, the room was still buzzing with the yearbook staff working on the final spreads for their deadline. I wished them farewell and as I walked out the door to head to my car, my advisor followed me out.
I still remember standing in the hallway that late afternoon staring at her in disbelief as she asked me what time I would be back to help finish the yearbook. My heart sank. In 4 years I had given my blood sweat and tears to this program - to this woman that I considered more of a mother to me than my own mother and here she was, standing in front of me telling me that I hadn’t yet done “enough.” I felt certain she was misunderstood. I reminded her that it was my best friend's graduation party and I was headed out to the lake.
She didn’t acknowledge my statement at all. Instead, she raised her eyebrows and tilted her head.
“You’re going to take a little break.” she said. “You’re gonna go to Sonic and get yourself a drink and come back and help us finish.”
I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. That day is the day I learned how to set a professional boundary. Now, I was 17 at the time, so I didn’t handle it in the very BEST way that I could, but I handled it in a way that reminded me and her that I still had power over myself.
After a long pause, I said “yep, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.” Knowing very well I was not going to do it.
I left the school. I went through Sonic and instead of turning to go back to the school, I headed the opposite direction towards the lake and never looked back.
I learned that day that no matter what, there will always be people who want more from you. People who take advantage of you. At that moment, it didn’t matter to her that I had many times I had skipped classes at the detriment of my grades to work on the paper and yearbook. It didn’t matter how many Saturday’s I’d given or how many times I’d been sick and STILL came to work on the paper. All that mattered to her in that moment was what I could do for her and how she could take advantage of the situation.
In that moment I learned that I could say no. I learned that no one can make me do anything without my consent. I learned that sometimes, I have to put myself first.
A guess what? I said no and kept my scholarship. I still graduated. I still won awards for that last issue of the paper and I had a blast at that party. Remember that “no” isn’t a bad word. The world will not end if you say it.