After Steve Jobs died, Carmine Gallo compiled a list of lessons to be learned from Jobs for the magazine Entrepreneur. One of her rules to success: “Say no to 1,000 things. Jobs was as proud of what Apple chose not to do as he was of what Apple did.”
As a freshman, I find it hard to utter that word — one simple “no” — at Yale. When I came to Yale, opportunities such as having dinner with Charles Hill, joining the Rifle Club, competing in ballroom dancing or consuming the endless piles of dessert in the dining hall were hard to pass up. At the beginning of “Yes Man,” Jim Carrey’s character says no to everything, afraid to take risks. After an intervention from a fraudulent guru, Carrey has to accept every opportunity he encounters. Since arriving at Yale, I feel like Carrey’s character; I have a chronic problem of saying yes.
Last semester, I remember looking at the Blue Book and continuously scratching my head at what to say no to. At one point, I was proud to cut down my shopping list to 10 credits! While my Bulldog Days host Joshua Penny assured me I would have more chances to take those classes, I kept worrying that this professor might not teach that class next year or that I would keep putting a class off indefinitely.
In the end, I found a schedule that allowed me to take fun classes, dip into my potential majors and enroll in a few must–take classes. The act of turning in my schedule, though, was still painful. I regretted saying no to Marvin Chun’s “Introduction to Psychology,” knowing he would not teach it for another few years or John Gaddis’ “Cold War,” knowing he has not taught it since 2009 or Mary Lui’s “Asian American History 1800–Present” because I could not fit it in my schedule. I am happy to have settled with my schedule, but like we do in Economics 115, I cannot help but analyze the opportunity costs.
If saying no to classes weren’t enough, the Extracurricular Bazaar did not help my addiction to saying yes last semester. In fewer than two hours of walking around Payne Whitney, I joined enough panlists to find 74 new messages in my inbox. They all bore similar messages: “Thanks for joining the city desk!” “Welcome to ViSA!” “Come out and join Phoenix for food.” By mid-September, my inbox was cluttered to the point that I deleted messages en masse. Who knows how many dinner plans or Cultural Connections reunions I missed? Today, I still routinely send emails to unsubscribe to 45 of those panlists.
Despite all the small inconveniences that saying yes to almost everything has brought me, I never regretted it. Because I said “yes,” I participated in a policy leadership conference at Brown and met some of the most talented people around the Ivy League, compiled statistics for the Insider’s Guide to the Colleges and picked pumpkins with adopted Vietnamese children. Like midterm season at Yale, this list seems to never end.
Like many people still deciding which classes to take this term, I still toy with the idea of turning down fun classes — classes that will not have any immediate practical value. But then I remember all of the opportunities available to me last semester because I took risks and tried new things. While I realize I cannot take every class in the Blue Book, I simply cannot dismiss a class because it is not resume–worthy. Although it doesn’t figure in to my intended economics major, maybe a class like “Great Hoaxes and Fantasies” will be where my next adventure begins.
Davis Nguyen is a freshman in Berkeley College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.