Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 21, 2021

Learning to set boundaries and put my needs first

By SANIYA RAMCHANDANI | September 12, 2019

PUBLIC DOMAIN For Ramchandani, saying “no” is one way to stand up for yourself.

With the beginning of classes comes the inevitable internal struggle between focusing on academics, being social and getting enough sleep. We all go through the same thing; classwork piles up, and somehow every single party is held on the same night every single lab is due, while every friend you’ve ever made crawls out of the woodwork and wants to catch up over coffee. 

The average college student can juggle around 15 credits, one or two medium commitment clubs, a couple of good friends and a romantic relationship without falling apart. But the average Hopkins student is, in addition to all of the above, probably finding the cure to some obscure disease, learning a new language or two for fun and working a part time job too.

So, naturally, we are stressed out and completely unforgiving of ourselves. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but there are many ways to avoid that constant guilty feeling. In my opinion, the easiest of them all is to hierarchize, and to do so extremely harshly.

For 20 years I was a people pleaser. I did everything to ensure that everyone around me was happy. I would sacrifice my sleep, my time, sometimes even my grades and often my health to make a friend feel better about a rough day or edit someone else’s paper for the umpteenth time. I didn’t realize how unbelievably taxing and detrimental the “you before me” mindset was until I spent this entire summer on my own answering to no one but myself. 

It was a breath of fresh air to wake up and go to lunch wherever I wanted to go and fall into a daily routine that I crafted without regard for how anyone else would fit in to it. I would make a mistake like get on the wrong train and be a couple of minutes late to meet someone, and not beat myself up about it at all.

This was also the summer I learned to say no. After working for nine hours, powering through an hour-long barre class and making dinner, it simply isn’t feasible to “paint the town red.” The first time I had to say no to a friend, I sat anxiously by my phone awaiting what I thought would be a passive-aggressive response fueled by anger. 

In reality, what I received was understanding and compassion. In that moment I realized that many people find themselves in similar situations (too busy to take anything else on) and that my fear of disappointing people was completely misplaced. 

Standing up for yourself and what will keep you sane is nothing to apologize for. In fact, you should applaud yourself. Changing my mindset to one that puts “me before you” has been the single most rewarding thing I have done all year.

That kind of ruthless self-prioritization is much easier said than done. But it is the only way to be at peace with yourself and your decisions regardless of the outcome. I have learned that no matter what you do, someone is going to be upset, so you might as well make sure that someone isn’t you. 

A great first step is to literally list all of the things you care about, and then rank them according to how much you care about each one. This structure is going to be different for every person. 

Personally, in order of importance, I put my health first, close friends and relationships second, academics third and other commitments (such as clubs and organizations) fourth. There are lists within that list (for example, which friendships take precedence). 

The next and final step is to cement that list in your mind and enforce it strictly. It can get difficult to draw clear lines. But boundaries are imperative, and if you care more about date night than your club’s monthly social, it is 150 percent okay to do what you want to do and not think about who might be disappointed for a whole five minutes.

It’s okay to put your needs first. In fact, it is entirely healthy to do what you feel is right, because no one — not your friends, colleagues or even parents – knows the full story except for you. You’re the only person responsible for you; we’re all adults here. So this semester, be a little patient and forgive the inevitable silly mistakes. Stand up for yourself even if it’s just to yourself.

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