By Rob Alvarez
The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything. ~Warren Buffett
That might work if success is your goal. To be happier however, I say try the opposite. If you find yourself too often saying no to things, resolve to just say yes. Of course, as with any resolution, there has to be some ground rules. So here they are. What you say yes to has to provide the potential for one or more of the following:
- Experiencing something new
- Learning or mastery
- Challenging your perceived limitations
- Connection with people
- Creating something
- Having fun
You can say my youth was lived fairly conservatively having been raised to worry about what could go wrong. I grew up in a culture of utilizing fear to derive good behavior from children. Stories of ghosts and monsters such as the boogeyman stealing away the naughty and the many ways you could go blind were prevalent growing up in my family. Thus, up until the summer before my senior year in high school my default response was, “Thanks, but no.” I figured sticking mainly to activities that would help me get into a good college was the smart path to stay on. So I stuck to playing sports, studying hard, and participating in clubs that would look good on my college application. The main goal remained minimizing the risk of getting into trouble, embarrassing myself, or being hurt in any way. Basically, just play it safe.
If you hold on tight to what you think is your thing you may find you’re missing all the rest. ~Dave Matthews (from The Best of What’s Around)
I cannot recall a catalyzing event or spark that changed my thinking, but one day, just prior to my last year of high school, I simply decided to just say yes. I resolved to turn my default answer into yes. Now, I didn’t agree to everything, but I definitely took more chances. It wasn’t only about being game to going along with some of the fun things my friends were doing. It was also about shedding the fear holding me back from doing what I wanted to do and taking the risks I wanted to take. I freed myself from the safety tether keeping me confined to the ground.
That year I was able to experience life in full as it was meant to be. I took chances I normally would never take, like flirting with the cute new girl in science class. I fell in love. I fell out of love. I broke a heart and had my heart broken. And I fell in lust. Made great decisions and really bad decisions. I laughed like I’d never laughed before, and cried like never before. I acted in a play. It was glorious even though I said only two lines. Sold out both nights. Standing room only. I was introduced to music that pierced my soul and made my head dance. I experienced Lollapalooza. I danced to Oingo Boingo in concert at the Hollywood Bowl. I saw Morrissey writhe on stage in poetic self-deprecating anguish at Irvine Ampitheatre. I went to house parties I had no business going to just because one of my friends thought it would be fun. I piled into a car with six of my friends at 2am just because we had to try falafels and West Hollywood had the best. I also partook in more nerdy endeavors, like going on a scavenger hunt with friends, knocking door-to-door asking strangers to depart with things in their house that happened to be on my list. I experienced the thrill of Six Flags Magic Mountain and going on a blind date. Most importantly, I learned so much about myself that year through various connections I made in so many levels with the people around me. That is what made that period of my life successful – not my grades, or graduating, or getting into college.
So I suggest, if you feel like your life seems to fit too comfortably in a groove or you’re simply finding yourself saying no too often for fear of falling off your tracks, try a resolution to just say yes. Challenge yourself out of your comfort zone. Take on something new. Give in to that impulse within you to take a risk. You can start slow. You can limit it to a week, a month, or a summer, maybe. You can strictly follow the ground rules I laid out or not. Whatever you decide, just switch your default setting to yes (you can always switch it back whenever you like). Maybe, just maybe, you will open yourself up to experience life in full, as it’s meant to be.
Rob is editor-in-chief of WeRunWithYou. He is also an operations manager at the Chemours Company, and coaches the Newark Charter middle school track and field team. His current interests include exploring leadership, organizational development, and personal well-being.