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The Hidden Gift in Saying No

Sydnei Kaplan


All too often, our teens feel like they have to try everything. Not in the literal sense, but in the sense that they feel pressure to DO — more classes, higher level classes, more activities, more clubs.

This can be especially debilitating for our college kids because they are taking all of this on while learning to navigate their lives on their own.

Many times, there’s a valuable gift in saying NO, or in not doing something.

Two examples from my own daughter’s experiences were eye-opening, and a real blessing in disguise.

The first story: To be an RA, or not to be an RA?

At the end of her freshman year, my now junior applied to be a Resident Advisor (RA) for her sophomore year. She loved living on campus, treasured her cozy dorm single-suite, and always has been a natural when it comes to helping others. Whether it was a friend needing emotional support or a classmate stumped by a homework assignment, people turn to my daughter because she is warm, truly cares and is an unbiased problem solver. The RA post seemed right up her alley and she felt this was something she badly wanted.

After progressing through multiple stages of interviews, my daughter was ultimately asked to be an alternate. This presented a dilemma, because if she didn’t eventually get chosen, she wouldn’t have a place to live. Apartments fill up quickly in her college town, and potential roommates are scooped up even more quickly.

Much like me, my daughter is a believer in things happening for a reason. So while she was disappointed in her alternate status, she looked for the light in the situation. I was her sounding board as she reasoned that she could always apply to be an RA for another year, and that she wouldn’t want to bail on a roommate if she was asked to step in as an RA after committing to an apartment.

A few close friends had shared this journey with my daughter, encouraging her to pursue it and helping her weigh the pros and cons of accepting the alternate spot. A friend (one she was just getting to know better) expressed interest in getting an apartment together for the next year. There were beautiful double suites (each room had its own bathroom!) available in a building my daughter had been eyeing since she chose her school.

Ultimately, my daughter opted to pass on potentially being an RA for her sophomore year. She chose to say no to that opportunity at that time. In reality she was choosing her best yes.

Fast forward to now, her junior year. My college girl is in the middle of her second year living in the same AMAZING apartment — located less than a block from campus — with a roommate who went from being a casual friend to one of her closest friends. She’s had time to join a club, take on a part-time job and enjoy hanging out and socializing with her friends.

None of this would have come to pass had she pursued the RA job two years ago. Of course we cannot know how things might have turned out if she had chosen that path. But we do know that saying NO opened a beautiful new door.

The second story: Is Greek Life really what I'm looking for?

Not joining a sorority her sophomore year (after going through most of the recruitment process) also revealed unexpected treasures.

My daughter knew she wanted to get a feel for college her freshman year and wait to rush (this is a name given to the recruitment process) until her sophomore year. My own sorority experience was the highlight of my college experience, so it’s not surprising that my daughter wanted to explore this. During the summer before her freshman year we had talked a lot about what I cherished about sorority life. I met some of my best friends — one who my daughter even met a couple of times. I loved being surrounded by my sisters and sharing meals, TV time, studying and a room.

The feeling of home, connectedness, close friends and potential for fun can be extraordinary. But being part of a sorority isn’t the only way to get these things.

The beginning of sophomore year was filled with demanding classes, field experience (my daughter is studying education and must spend time observing and teaching in schools every year), adjusting to apartment life and more. It was difficult for her to fully immerse herself in and enjoy recruitment, which is fun but exhausting. The process involves going to an information session, followed by four rounds of events during which the “potential new members” (PNMs) spend a certain amount of time speaking with girls from each sorority. After each round, PNMs eliminate sororities and sororities eliminate PNMs, the idea being that options are narrowed down to the best fits for everyone. It doesn’t always work that way, and there can be disappointment on both ends.

While my daughter met some wonderful girls, she didn’t find any one sorority that felt like it had “her people.” Plus the whirlwind of talking to so many people for hours on end was draining. Stress from the other aspects of her life also made it hard for her to fully enjoy and get the most out of the process.

But I believe something else was at play here. The pull of the hidden gift.

Just before the last round of recruitment, my daughter decided to not pursue this opportunity further, at this time. After investing so much energy and heart in this process, yet not finding “her people” and feeling the pressure of schoolwork, letting this go for the time being just made the most sense.

Making this difficult decision offered a sense of relief and freedom to focus on the other things on her plate. And it allowed her to forge even stronger connections with the friends currently in her life. Friends who have since grown to be like family. Friends who share in the work and the fun. Friends who planned an intimate and meaningful surprise birthday party for her 21st birthday, because they truly get and love her.

This is not to say that my daughter won’t explore joining a sorority again. She might. Although she is a junior, it is not unheard of at her school for girls to join at that point. There are no sorority houses — they are more social and philanthropic organizations, more relaxed than sororities at other colleges. Sometimes it is all about the timing. If she embarks on that path, she’ll embrace the opportunity with the blessing of the unexpected treasures she found by saying no at that particular, previous moment in time.

Frequently, we feel defined by the things we choose to do and say yes to.
In reality, it’s often when we say NO, or choose not to take something on, that we discover beautiful gifts that shape us in priceless ways.

A group of friends in college celebrating a birthday

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    Sydnei Kaplan left a marketing career when her first child was born and never looked back. She and her husband are now parents to two college-aged children. Currently Sydnei works part-time in a preschool and rediscovered her passion for writing through Mom in the Moment, her recently launched blog. Find her on social media, too.
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