One week after I graduated from college, I boarded a train to pursue my graduate education in NYC. My intentions were to study, choreograph, and find whatever means necessary to financially support myself. Every Wednesday morning, I would pick up a free Village Voice outside the subway station and scour the wanted ads during my commute. By the time I got off, I had circled at least two jobs. By later in the week, I was reading mail aloud to a blind man, checking maps for accuracy, organizing someone’s closet, and more. NYC provided endless opportunities to support myself. And the variety of jobs was perfect for awhile, until the wear and tear of looking for a new job every week began to take its toll. I realized, the time it took to review listings, make the calls, and come in for an interview—all before being paid a cent—wasn’t the most efficient use of my time.
So, I began searching out artist and freelance friends to ask for suggestions. I still remember the day when a fellow dancer suggested working the morning “greeter” shift at a gym—4am to 1pm. The pay was consistent and I’d have the entire afternoon to focus on my studies and the evening to focus on dance. So the following week, I went in for an interview at a gym in my neighborhood. I answered the question “why would you be a good fit for this position?” by highlighting my organizational skills. But as I watched my interviewer’s eyes glaze over, I quickly changed gears and shared my background in dance and my fascination with the body. His eyes lit up, and he began asking questions about the style of dance I studied and my interests in other wellness disciplines like nutrition, Pilates, and yoga. When I got the call to come back for a second interview, he asked, “Have you ever considered becoming a personal trainer?” I was surprised, since I’d never spent time lifting weights or using machines for cardio. I probably hadn’t been in a traditional gym more than twice in my entire life. The dance studio was my gym. So, yeah, no, I’d never considered being a personal trainer. But I didn’t say no. I said yes. And with that, my path down the road to wellness began. There were a lot of twists and turns and certainly more than a few bumps in the road, but it was that simple yes, a small, intuitive white lie, that changed the course of my life.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it means to say yes. Recently, one of my chef instructors was explaining his career trajectory, and shared his initial desire to open a French restaurant. In the beginning, he stuck to a very specific course of action, working for one famous French chef after another. His focus was relentless. He would only work for the best in the exact type of restaurant he too wanted to open. But exhaust set in. And then someone asked him if he ever considered writing food-based articles for publications. He hadn’t ever considered it, but he said yes. And then, when he was asked if he ever considered writing a cookbook, which he hadn’t, he said yes to that too. And, finally, when someone asked him if he ever considered teaching, well, he said yes to that too. His message was clear: keep saying yes to see where your career can take you, and be open to going wherever opportunity arises.
Of course, saying yes isn’t just reserved for career decisions. The practice of throwing caution to the wind and saying yes can apply to all of our decisions. But can saying yes affect our overall wellness? I did my research to find out what was behind saying yes and how that can affect us.
To understand yes we also have to understand no. Saying no can come from fear, discomfort, hopelessness, uncertainty, or lack of confidence. It can simply be no—I’m not interested, or it can be considered no—a fear response. And a fear response triggers us into survival mode (more specifically our fight or flight nervous system). In times of true danger, a fear response and the trigger of fight or flight is ideal. Like when saying no to stop a friend from stepping too quickly off the curb into oncoming traffic, or stopping a child from putting a coin in their mouth. When we are in danger, saying no allows us to get away, quickly. No is necessary and effective.
The problem arises in our inherent inclination to say no, even without the presence of danger. Many of us are more prone to saying no—a surviving mode—than saying yes—a thriving mode. So how do we go from surviving to thriving? Well, we can start by saying yes.
Yes opens the door to possibility, creativity, trust, and safety. It unexpectedly takes us out of that fight or flight mode, otherwise known as stress, and brings us into a more restful and peaceful state. It not only affects how we feel, but also how those around us respond. When a teacher is asked a question or when an employee makes a suggestion, a yes affirmation can be manifested as a simple head nod; actually saying yes can be an encouragement to continue exploration. Regardless, a head nod while listening and the encouragement that results from saying yes both signal respect and make the other party feel valued.
Now, I’m willing to admit that saying yes has gotten me into trouble more than once. And actually, there are a lot of papers and studies out there lauding the importance of saying no to set boundaries and protect ourselves from stress and feelings of overwhelm. I’m not suggesting we say yes to everything. I am suggesting starting with yes. That doesn’t mean you have to finish with yes. Just be open to the opportunities that are presented to you to explore deeper and investigate further. Saying yes opens yourself to laughter, connection, or even just the daring consideration of something new. I am suggesting saying yes even just a little bit more to add good into our lives. Leave the striving behind and start thriving. What will you say yes to this week?
Make A Change Today,