To commemorate the final year of my 5th decade, I dubbed 2017 as my year of yes. As a parent and an adult it is impossible to give the green light on everything – that would be reckless and the kids teeth would fall out. But I made a very deliberate choice to spend the year being open to every opportunity that was presented. The goal was to commit to more, to experience more and get out of my comfort zone more. So I guess it could also be called the year of more. Through the act of saying yes, my experiences and connections spiraled. As someone who collects experiences over things – it was, by far, my richest and most rewarding year yet.
Here’s are some of the lessons gleaned from my year of yes:
1. Opportunities to connect with people are ALWAYS a good idea.
Years ago while flying home after 6 months of travel in Australia and New Zealand, I remember pondering the purpose of the trip. It was very clear that it was the people we met along the way that made our travels special. While Milford Sound is memorable even in the fog it doesn’t offer verbal life lessons and it certainly doesn’t hug you goodbye when you say your farewells.
I was reminded of this lesson via my year of yes. I said yes to as many invites as I could manage. Yes to every single outing as masterminded by our cultural pied piper Jaime. Yes to opening nights and fun Broadway afternoons with Samira. Yes to a cooking lesson with a friend and a group of fellow but unknown foodies. Yes to dinners where my husband and I were faced with a table full of strangers who went on to become friends.
And Yes to a weekend away in a house with 8 other women, where I only knew one. I had been invited on this trip many times before, but my fear of not knowing more people in the group led me to decline. My year of yes pushed me over that barrier.
With each and every one of these social encounters there were moments of trepidation. But you take a deep breath, you ease into the situation, you are open, and you connect. Not always and not with everyone, but more often than not you do and that is a gift. The connections most certainly won’t happen if you are sitting solo on the couch. Every new person that permeates my social circle is a treasure and a valued addition to my life.
2. If at first you don’t succeed, do consider trying again.
When the opportunity to host a Fresh Air Fund child for a second year presented itself, we were not immediately pre-disposed to the idea. The summer before came with it’s lumps and bumps and awkward moments. We had a big summer ahead, did we have the time and the inclination to host a child again for a week?
Had it not been my year of mostly yes I may very well have said no to our second summer with our Fresh Air Fund child and that would have been a big mistake. Equipped with the knowledge from last summer – we tackled the visit from a different vantage point. We outlined our expectations and encouraged Madi to share hers. My children (and dogs) rose to the occasion and shared their best selves with Madi. And Madi, in turn, shared hers or maybe it was vice versa or maybe they just took turns.
The act of saying yes to this child in our home for a week delivered one of the best weeks of an amazing summer.
3. Listen to your friends when they tell you do something.
“You should start a blog.” If I had a nickel for every time someone told me that. Ha ha. But it was a common refrain on the heels of every theater review I wrote. Friends would stop me on the street to kindly share with me the much repeated words, “I so love reading your theater emails.” My friends Diane and Chris would say “Those emails you write would take me three days to compose.” And Tracey, Kristin, Denise, Nyssa, Shannon, and others would commonly say “Why don’t you have a blog yet?”
Listen to your friends when they tell you something about yourself. They are offering you clues on how you should be spending your time. Analyze it… think about it… embrace what they are saying and turn it into something. Often times they know you better than you know yourself and if you listen you can hear a pattern. Say yes to LISTENING!
In return, observe your friends and be vocal about their talents. I learned a lot about how to do this from my friend Karen who is endlessly doling out flattering observations. Be generous pointing out their talents. Be your friend’s best cheer leader.
4. Saying YES to help is a good thing.
I am in awe of the many talents my friends have that I do not. Their brains function differently and admirably in so many ways. I think this used to intimidate me and perhaps mute my strengths as I didn’t feel I matched up to theirs. I’ve come to realize we all have strengths and talents and some sort of greatness within – you have to learn what yours is and focus on that and learn to rely on others to shore up your weaknesses. Your friends have their weak spots, too. Saying YES PLEASE to help and YES PLEASE to helping others makes every project better, more palatable and more effectively achieved.
My friend Christine has been a tsunami of help as I embarked in a new direction with my theater club. Her puzzle solving skills have been invaluable to me and to everyone who attended SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical and Meteor Shower. And there is NO WAY I could have pulled this blog off without the help of the oft mentioned Stacie. When she quietly offered to help I was a little apprehensive. I felt bad taking up her time and was still questioning whether this blog was a good idea. But as it was the year of the affirmative – I said yes and I’m glad I did. Everything I write is better for having gone through her careful editing and design eyes. She shines at many of the aspects of blogging that I do not and we are having fun learning together along the way.
Be happy and secure enough in yourself to be surrounded by talent. Say yes to help. Appreciate and applaud that help. And do all you can to help your friends right back. There is nothing so rewarding as helping a friend flourish.
5. Excising negativity from your life is essential.
Saying yes is an inherently optimistic act (unless it is to do with drugs, say no to drugs). Along the way you will often encounter naysayers that offer quips that drag you down and make you question your choice to move forward. Make efforts to surround yourself with positive people that support your decisions and have your best interests at heart. It has taken me a LONG time to understand that a person’s negative vibe is not my responsibility. What is my responsibility is to not let it affect my positive vibe and if that means cutting ties to that person then so be it.
6. Don’t let your inner critic hold you back.
I didn’t even know I had an inner critic. My assumption was that my brain conjured up very logical and rational reasons for not moving forward on some things. Phrases like: “Why does the world need to hear my voice regarding theater reviews?” and “Why does the world need another blog?” are all things I said to myself to keep me from moving forward.
I have to give a shout out to Elizabeth McCourt and her fellow professionals for introducing me to my inner critic during a workshop I bravely attended in February: Finding your Inner Fierce. Elizabeth invited me and again I offered a reluctant yes. My inner critic had lots of opinions and thought of all sorts of reasons not to attend. But I went and sat with some discomfort in a room full of strangers, save the smiling, enthusiastic and highly competent Elizabeth. Through a series of interactive exercises the team gently revealed the inner critic in all of us and how that little voice can deter one from achieving their goals.
So interesting! Who knew?? What an epiphany to be able to recognize it and silence it and move forward. They are having another workshop in January if you want to learn more about your own inner negative nellie.
7. Say YES to Experiences that scare you just a bit.
I think it is often the things that scare us the most that end up being the most rewarding experiences to tackle. In May I was asked to take on a fairly visible volunteer role at one of my kid’s school. My first reaction was surprise, then fear, and then doubt (see inner critic). But after some pep talks from my friends and some heated debates between my inner critic and my more confident self, I said YES. Did the school know it was my year of yes?
I am still in process with the position, but thus far it has been a pleasure. It has been rewarding to dust off some of the skills I acquired back when I collected a salary and expanding my network within the community has been a joy. Say yes to the things that scare you – they will make you better, stronger, and happier. And get help along the way (see say yes to help). There are too many people to thank here by name, but I hope you know who you are. I couldn’t do it without you – thank you!!
8. Always have your next big adventure looming in your future.
Adventure, to me, is the spice of life. I seek them out and like to always have one on my horizon. Saying yes to the next big adventure introduces a goal that always requires planning, often includes training with a friend (usually Gail), and always incorporates anticipation. My last big challenge was finally saying yes to the 18 mile paddle board from Montauk to Block Island (with Gail).
I had my eye on this challenge for years and finally said yes to it this summer. It defined how many of the hours of my summer were spent (fundraising and training) and brought with it a posse of new connections in Montauk.
9. Consider the things that you LOVE and say YES to them!
I love lots of things: travel, books, the theater and exercise to name a few. I love organizing groups and collecting and connecting people. I have an outsize LOVE for dogs. With the exception of their short life spans, I love every thing about them: their affability, their enthusiasm, their unadulterated capacity for love, and the fact that they are adorable bundles of fur!
Before this year I would try to contain my enthusiasm for the four legged creature. I would pet every third dog or only puppies or only three legged french bull dogs. But I have tabled that reservation and, a bit to my children’s dismay, will unabashedly pet every dog I see. I embrace being the crazy dog lady. My visits with the dogs around town make me happy so why temper that? Opportunities for happiness are not rampant why turn your back on them? So consider what it is you love and love the heck out of it. Say yes to love. Just say yes!
My year of yes mindset is here to stay – I am a convert.
Might this be your year of yes?
Say YES to 2018! Happy New Year!