It felt like something clawed inside my throat, slashing away at my vocal chords. My cheeks were hot from the rushing red blood under my skin. My fists were clenched so tight they turned white from the lack of blood circulation. From my eyes, droplets of tears drizzled down and behind the fogged glasses were my piercing, brown eyes. I, a Korean American first generation, got into a screaming match with my dad.

I don’t really remember what exactly we got into a fight about. Every time we fought we got into a long, rambling argument that covered everything from my daily life at school to existential questions about the meaning of life and what I’m going to try to do about them. Whatever we argued about, deep inside I knew that this was a good thing. I had argued with my dad. And with that I knew we were, on some level, communicating. And this all started with one word, “no.”

As a child growing up in a Korean American household, I never said “no.” It’s a silly, little word, but for some reason, it cast a curse on me. I was like a little, stereotypical, Asian housewife from centuries ago. That was part of the culture: to never talk back and to obediently listen to elders. This inability to say “no” even permeated into my relationships with others. I could never say it to anyone’s requests. And because of that, I lost a part of myself while trying to help others. It escalated to the point where even casually at home, if I had to go to the bathroom, I asked my parents before I went. That was who I was.

I never noticed how much I degraded myself by being deprived of the word “no.” My viola teacher said that if I ever wanted to grow as a person, I needed to defeat my own worst enemy, myself. And it all started with one word, “no.”

It began at home. I don’t remember what exactly I said no to, but I remember squirming at the thought of saying it. My insides churned and I felt a pressure build up to my head, but once I said “no,” it was liberating. Of course, it went against my upbringing, but I finally realized the power of the word. This word allowed me to stop demeaning myself. It allowed me to figure out who I was without the fear of other people judging me. It allowed me to grow up and become who I am now.

Now I am able to walk with more confidence. Now I don’t need to feel obligated to others; my main concern is myself. Now I have a voice. And I intend to use it. I have become someone who does stand up for myself, someone who will go after his goals, even if they seem so far away. Now I stare challenges down and go after them. And once I grab them, I will hold on and see where they will take me.

One word. Two letters. “N.” “O.” This simple word had subtle, yet powerful effects especially in my relationship to my parents. “No” allowed me to talk to my parents and actually converse with them. Sure there are some occasional back and forth screaming matches, but I get to communicate with my parents in a way that most people don’t. We get to express all our emotions and true feelings to one another. And it all started with one word, “no.”

So I’ll say it again. No.

To all challenges that stand looming before me. No.

To all the doubt that lurks around me, ready to pounce. No.

To all the people that judge me from afar. No.

I will conquer the challenges, hunt the doubt, and brush off the people. This all started with one word. No.