Illustration by Alyssa Etoile.

Illustration by Alyssa Etoile.

In September, I asked Rookies to join me on a monthly self-care journey, and to send in any questions about self-care. Since then, the Club Thrive inbox has been buzzing with messages of curiosity and love. Readers from all over have demonstrated their commitment to building a community of care by asking for support while navigating busy schedules, complicated relationships, wavering self-confidence, disillusionment, and daunting transitions. One thing I learned from your honest and thoughtful notes is that, though we face unique and often alienating challenges, we’re united in our desire to be kinder. Your passion for helping each other heal and find solace is moving. And while your concern and compassion for each other inspires me, I’m concerned that we’re often taking on too much without also taking time to nurture ourselves. That’s why this month’s Club Thrive is about embracing the power of one simple word: No.

This may sound cliché, but we have to remember to put on our own metaphorical oxygen masks first, before we can adequately help each other. Caroline from Paris wrote that, “many things you wrote about felt similar to my personal experience. You’ve made me feel less alone. I was wondering how exactly would Club Thrive work, and how I could contribute to it?” My answer is that you’re all invited to use “no” as a complete sentence at least once this month, without apology. Your “no” can take many forms, and the way you do it is up to you.

If you’re like me, and you find freedom in form and structure, here’s a roadmap that might help you along the way:

  • Say no to burning yourself out (at school, work, et cetera) to get someone else’s approval.
  • Say no to other people’s judgments about who you are.
  • Say no to negative self-talk.
  • Say no to your inner voice if it criticizes you for negative self-talk and forgive yourself.
  • Say no to a habit that is no longer serving you.
  • Say no to fear, and literally tell your fear who’s boss and who is in control (you).
  • Say no to something that feels like an obligation (unless it’s homework or a promise you’ve already made) and choose inspiration instead.
  • Say no to _______. (Choose your own no!)

This may sound like a simple call to action, but I know firsthand that this is easier said than done. We live in a culture that pressures us to have it all, be it all, and do it all while supporting everyone but ourselves. And while we sometimes hear vapid messages about the importance of “balance” in the media, at work, or at school, the reality (and burden) of other people’s expectations can be stifling.

It’s frustrating when we aren’t provided with the time and space we need for rest and rejuvenation, but it’s necessary for us to thrive. So we’ll acknowledge Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s wisdom that, “there are people who dislike you because you do not dislike yourself,” and recognize that setting healthier boundaries in our lives is a huge step toward caring for ourselves on a deeper level. Nevertheless, prioritizing self-care is worth the price of a few naysayers who may not have learned these lessons themselves yet.

In the spirit of our commitment to supporting our collective self-care, I’ll offer some advice to Rooks who shared their questions.

I’m a nonbinary senior in high school with a heavy workload from extracurriculars and college apps, and I have really poor self-esteem. Any tips for feeling beautiful and badass while kicking the gender binary’s butt and studying for an AP Chem test? —Amelia, 17, Portland

Congrats on all of your hard work and dedication, Amelia. Your willpower and diligence are badass, and that, my darling, is beautiful. It must be hard enough juggling the stress of college applications, extra currics, and school. Senior year was one of the most triumphant and challenging times in my life because of all of the uncertainty and the looming transition. I hope you’ll say no to taking on any extra, nonrequired tasks this month. During the time you free up, I hope you’ll consider journaling about your vision for a world in which you feel glorious every day. Write about what it would look like, feel like, and even taste and smell like. This may sound like homework, but I truly believe in Gloria Steinem’s adage that “dreaming is a form of planning.” ♥

How does one deal with disillusionment without brushing it under the rug? —Kristen, 19, North Carolina

Kristen, my fellow North Carolinian, I’m so happy you stopped by. Your instinct about brushing feelings under the rug is spot on. Often, silence can be taken as tacit agreement. I hope you’ll say no to keeping mum next time a conversation or interaction at work or school doesn’t feel right to you. However: Saying yes to yourself and speaking your truth is a surefire way to help combat discontent. While I can’t promise that it will fix anything or everything, the simple act of expressing yourself is empowering. You may not have the power to change what is disappointing you, but you do have the power to use your voice and make your position clear. ♥

Weekends have always been my time to decompress from school stress, but now my Saturdays are pretty much full every weekend from 7 AM to 11 PM. How can I be kind to myself and give myself time to recover from the school week? I’m pretty good at drinking lots of water and getting lots of sleep on school nights, but I just worry that with these new activities, I’ll end up distancing myself from my group of pals because I’m busy nearly every Saturday. I don’t want to lose my pals, but I also don’t want to jam pack every weekend more than I have to. —Simone, 16, Chicago

Simone, I’m proud of you for all of the important steps you’re taking to stay healthy and vivacious. Have you had a chance to chat with your pals about your busy schedule and everything on your plate? I recommend talking with them, and setting up a regularly scheduled time—maybe once every other Sunday?—to hang out. That will hopefully free up room in your jam-packed weeks to rest solo and will give you something fun to consistently look forward to. My cousin and her friends started a dinner club where friends (including me) got together once a month on a Tuesday. It became a nine-year-long tradition that was a big part of our self-care practices, and gave us all something to get excited about during our busy work and school weeks. Try it and let me know how your new self-care tradition goes. ♥

I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know that you have the wisdom you’re seeking within yourselves. My suggestions are just a reflection of that brilliance. Good luck on your journeys, and make sure you take time to breathe. Also: If you flex the power of “no” this month, tell me your story in the comments, or email me at [email protected]

Do you have a question or suggestion for next month’s Club Thrive? Please send them to [email protected] in an email that includes your NAME, CITY, and AGE.