Driving Change in Higher Education.

Words to live by: Don’t bite off more than you can chew

Ryan Penneau“Ryan continuously demonstrates excellence in student programs and learning outcomes.” Call 920-915-9045. Email Ryan@TakeBackCollege.com By Ryan Penneau

Take Back College

I recently facilitated a leadership retreat for a student senate in Minnesota. It was a truly wonderful event with very passionate and dedicated students; but I do not want to talk about the retreat, as awesome as it was. I do, however, want to talk about the facility. 

This environmental and sustainable nature reserve in the southeastern part of Minnesota is located on acres and acres of gorgeousness. It’s quiet, peaceful and rejuvenating. The staff was great, the facility was fantastic, and the food was awesome, surprisingly awesome.  Not only was the food awesome, but the facility implemented a ‘take only what you will eat and eat what you take’ philosophy, which I adored.

For every meal, as you made your way through the cafeteria-like line, you requested your foods and if you wanted more or less. Take your tray back to your table, eat and enjoy, and then, in proper cafeteria etiquette, you returned your tray to the dish counter. Before dropping your plate and tray off, however, you had to scrape any leftover food into a bucket that would be weighed at the end of your stay. The goal of the weighing leftover food was to have a total weight of less than a pound among the members of your group.


Aside from that enviro-sustainable thing, which I fully support, this little cultural ‘nudge’ is exactly what we all need to think about from time to time.

Every meal, I would have to ask myself how hungry I was. I had to intentionally decide how much I would be able to take on and commit to. A very real ‘don’t bite off more than you can chew’ so-to-speak. At the table, I had to follow through and actually eat what I set myself up for. By the end of my three day retreat with the students, I found myself asking for less food than what I would normally take, I wasn’t eating as much as I would had I piled food on my plate so I felt satisfied instead of full, and I wanted to continue this behavior and the feeling of satisfaction as I felt good about being a contributing member of the center’s mission.

This article is not about food and proper eating. I am not the expert on that. Put some O-Mega Nachos in front of me and I’ll prove my non-healthy lifestyle to you and to the nachos.

I am alluding to something other than cafeteria lines and how we show up to China Buffet. 

Personally, I love being able to say no to something as opposed to a yes riddled with hesitation. I like committing to the things I really have time for and am capable of doing really well as opposed to putting more on my plate than I can handle and completing them with less satisfaction and knowing they could have been better. I like being satisfied as opposed to full. I don’t like (to use the food metaphor) eating until full and looking at my plate and seeing that there is still food on it. 

We commit to more than we should. We think saying “no” will hurt people’s feelings. It’s become a cultural thing, just like large portions and throwing out what’s left has become a cultural thing. Do more! Busy is good! We host ‘no sleep’ competitions daily.

No sleep competition? Yes, that’s when conversation with peers goes something like this:

“I am exhausted. I only got 4 hours of sleep last night.”

“Me too, I got three and a half hours. I can’t stay awake,” they say.

You say, “I know, I’m on my third Monster drink.”

They respond, “I’m on my fourth and I haven’t eaten.”

“This is my fourth day in a row doing this.”

Is that the kind of feeling we strive for? That’s what we want to create? We want to step up to the cafeteria line, fill four plates, get to our chairs and eat until we’re sick? We want to look at the plates and feel guilty for wasting what’s left? Never feeling satisfied. Never feeling like we signed up for exactly what we needed to and then feeling great that we did what we said we would do.

Here are my final words for you for this year. Thank you for taking the time to visit this student success corner of the Student’s View. It’s been a pleasure. I hope some of my articles and rambling writing style made you think or reflect. I hope to leave you with this. If you do two things from here on out, for the rest of your life, you will be a satisfied and fulfilled human being:

Say yes to what matters, say no to things you have hesitation towards. If you can’t take on more, don’t do it. Do what matters really well. Do not do what matters and what doesn’t matter collectively so it all turns out at 50%.

Do what you say you will do. If you began, STARTING TODAY, to do everything you say you will do: you’re on time, you complete projects, you call when you say you will, you show up to what you sign up for, and you do the dishes because you said you’d get them done today, you will come to find that you will feel better about yourself and you’ll start requesting less to be on your plate because you know if you say yes, then there is no opportunity to falter.

Get out there, go get ’em. And start showing up at the level you deserve. Eat what’s on your plate, don’t take more than you can chew.


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