I love contrary perspectives to things. I can be as stubborn as anybody on certain things, but I love being wrong when it comes to advice on life choices.
When I saw the movie “Yes Man” years ago it was a shift for me. The movie is sort of a satire of itself, but the general takeaway is that opening yourself to possibilities by not saying no all the time is good for you. As someone who spent too much time making excuses not to do things, it seemed like good advice. No one says yes to everything in their path like Jim Carrey did in the movie of course, but it’s an interesting guiding principal for change.
The trouble is, as James Altucher points out, that every time you say yes to something you’re saying no to something else. It’s inescapable. And if you’re not careful, agreeing to a whole bunch of something that seems good can mean having said no to other important elements of your life.
A few years back my wife and I had a lot of debt. I set aside freelancing and took a job at a local marketing firm, promising myself to give my all to the project to make as much money as possible. Any opportunity to advance, I’d take it.
For awhile that seemed to work out well; I was promoted twice my first year there and felt like I was changing things. I worked nights and weekends whenever needed (which eventually became all the time). For awhile I was happy to do it, blissfully unaware at the time of what I was saying no to.
Toward the end of my time there, once I was really feeling worn down, it began to occur to me all that I’d put aside. But it was an inkling then, a nagging little thought that mostly got brushed away in the rush.
It wasn’t until I was out of there that the life consequences were clear. I’d alienated family, friends, and my own physical and emotional well-being. Luckily in my case it was for under two years and not ten or twenty, but you don’t always get do-overs for relationships you’ve squandered.
Reminds me of a guy whose daughter I once dated. He was a finance guy (not sure exactly what he did). He’d work long hours and come home to immediately go down into his basement office. Only occasionally would he eat dinner with the family.
“I’m doing this for all of you,” he’d say to them to explain his absence from their lives.
He’d grown up with little, and he’d vowed to create as lavish a lifestyle as possible for his family to make up for it. I can appreciate the feeling, and in his mind I’m sure he was doing the right thing each night he said no to sitting in the living room with his wife and daughters and just relaxing.
What they wanted more was a father. A husband. By chasing his dream that hard, with all those yeses that were also no’s, he’d deprived them of that.
It’s good to be open to opportunity, but I’ve learned that saying yes to a bunch of things doesn’t automatically equal seizing opportunity. In a way it does, but it also means saying no to other opportunity. Sometimes it’s choosing a wiser path and saying no to the opportunity for pain. Other times it’s simply choosing between similarly valid paths.
At the end of the day our lives are the sum of those choices. Good or bad, yes or no, we’ve invited things in and turned others away. Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference. We have to make choices, but we have to be aware what we’re agreeing to as much as what we’re saying no to in the process.