July 21, 2017

The moment I realized I could live to my fullest leadership potential is when I learned and accepted that it was OK to say, “No.” Having a full plate of tasks that I do not enjoy for myself is what made me see that going through the motions was not helping anyone. Going to college and getting involved is the number one thing you hear leading up to the start of your first semester. I might have taken this a little too seriously. By the beginning of my junior year, I was a member of seven organizations and held high leadership positions in five of them. I thought it was going to be my year and all of my extracurricular activities were going to help me succeed beyond my campus but, in reality, overextending myself [and my time] was one of the worst things I could have decided to do.

I’ve always been a people-pleaser. I used to do anything and everything that was asked of me until I realized it was not helping me at all. I always thought if I gave something my absolute best effort as quickly as I could do it, I would be held to a higher standard than others because of my drive and willingness to help. I quickly learned this was not how I was being perceived by my friends, classmates and even faculty and athletic mentors. I was noticing more and more that people were asking me to do things they didn’t want to do simply because they knew I would never tell them, “No.” As a result, I was spending all of my time out of my house, from 9:00am until 10:00pm on most nights, with no breaks. It was physically and mentally exhausting.

As I was starting to get ahead in the organizations I was involved with, I was also falling behind in school work and friendships. I realized this mostly on the weekends when I couldn’t participate in social events because I had to catch up to the minimum amounts of work required for my classes. No one saw my struggle. And if they did, they didn’t call me out on it. I wasn’t approached about my behavior until I sent my Spanish professor an email begging him to have mercy on me and bump up my grade out of the goodness of his heart. He called me into his office to talk about my situation. I’ll never forget his first comments to me that day.

“Wow, I didn’t realize you were so involved until I saw your email signature. You are doing way more than I think anyone can handle.”

I quickly answered with the usual response of, “Well, I love to keep myself busy and I don’t know how to say no.” He told me that if I kept going on like this I would probably start failing more classes than just beginner Spanish. That was at the midterm of the spring semester.

I decided to start taking this conversation seriously over spring break when I didn’t really get much of a break. I made the decision that during senior year, I would not be so involved in as many organizations. I planned to go back to campus with involvement in only five organizations and leadership in three of them. This may not sound like a huge change but it is already making a major difference in my leadership abilities. I have more time to devote to the organizations I love the most so I can make sure each one is succeeding to its full potential, just like I am doing for myself.

Learning to say “No” and only getting invested in what I truly love was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself to date. I am more excited than ever to go back to campus and tackle the year ahead of me. I know I am going to make huge strides in my last year of college and have the ability and capacity to leave behind a legacy I can be proud of.

About Brigitte Curcio:
Brigitte Curcio is a senior studying public relations and women’s studies at the University of Tennessee at Martin. She is a member of the school’s NCAA Division I rifle team, president of the Panhellenic Council, president of the Student Athlete Advisory Council, campus correspondent of the UTM Her Campus Chapter, a conference coordinator for the Coalition for Collegiate Women’s Leadership, as well as a collegiate member and chapter ritual chair of Zeta Tau Alpha.