Saying YES to Life!
Bonnie, the receptionist at my dentist’s office asked me if I’d like to attend the fund-raiser for the local school. My “No” was met with a huge “Thank you!” She explained, “I hate it when people say, ‘Let me check my schedule’, as if their calendar is their decision-maker. They already know the answer but are afraid to say “no.”
Sometimes no is the right answer.
Particularly when by saying no, we’re really saying yes to something else. What would life be like if we said no to what we think “they” want and instead said yes to what really called to us. How would life be different if we tuned out the “shoulds” on behalf of what inspires and moves us.
I am not proposing we shirk our responsibilities and obligations – just suggesting we check for any self-imposed, life-draining career fates. When year-after-year we automatically show up for a job that no longer fits, it exacts a huge toll. We start to disengage from life. Our inability to say no to what no longer serves us prevents us from ardently engaging, and saying YES to life.
If you feel disengaged, know that you are not alone. According to interviews with more than two million workers conducted by the Gallup organization, just 26% of the US working population is engaged, 55% is not engaged and 19% is actively disengaged.
Danny Wallace noticed he was staying home way too much. In his mouse-colored sweatpants and jelly stained t-shirt, sprawled on the sofa with a bag of chips and a six-pack within reach, the only choices he had to make were with his remote. He was avoiding people- emailing instead of calling friends, not showing up for meetings. One day on the subway a stranger said, “Say yes more.” Those words penetrated his malaise and spun his life around. From then on he made a promise to be open to all opportunities and live his life taking every available chance offered to him. He said,“ I will say Yes to every favor, request, suggestion and invitation.” His book, “Yes Man” documents the rich and wild adventure that his life became.
So how do we learn to say YES to life?
You can learn a lot about the power of YES from watching improvisational theatre. Improv looks like unrehearsed spontaneous action but in actuality takes long hours of practice and a particular set of rules to be compelling. The first rule is – never reject an invitation. If another player is acting out a scenario that includes rainy, cold weather, your job as a fellow actor is to feel and react to the lightening, thunder and raindrops. If you had plans to impersonate a super-hero but your fellow thespian beats you to it and spontaneously casts you as a llama rancher, you don’t dig your heals in and say, “No, I’m Wonder Woman!” You must say yes to the invitation and embody the rancher –at least at first.
Once you can totally embrace their reality, then and only then can you diverge into new territory and bring everyone else to wherever your imaginings want to go.
And so it is with life…
It rarely goes as planned.
Life’s inevitable loop-de-loops catch us off guard and present us with situations that are unfamiliar. Think of the last time you felt let down or unpleasantly surprised by a turn of events. It’s natural to feel slighted or upset and want to reject the way things seem to be going. The loss of a job, a soured relationship, illness, and even small disappointments like not getting praise that we think we’ve earned, can seem like derailments from the life we are “supposed” to have. It can trigger grumblings like, “This isn’t fair, why me?”
So how do we view these challenging moments as transformative opportunities when they make us want to duck and cover? These unforeseen derailments are an opportunity to step into your higher self. In fact, they can offer the perfect curriculum for revealing the next configuration of you that is more authentic, more integrated and freer to express the pure gifts that are uniquely yours.
The most challenging experiences we encounter are the most potentially transformative.
Michael grew up with chronic asthma. On a daily basis, he would suddenly feel like he was running out of air. Sometimes, he felt like he could not breathe at all and this was a staggering encumbrance in his life. Rushed to the emergency room regularly throughout his childhood and into his teens, he missed much of the life of a normal child.
After years of these terrifying experiences, Michael learned how not to panic when he started feeling that familiar tightness in his chest. He gradually taught himself to use the onset of symptoms as a cue to speak calmly and encouragingly to himself, which often averted his asthma from spiraling into a life-threatening attack. This formidable and relentless exercise taught Michael to become a witness to his reactions. It taught him to become his own inner ally.
In spite of a disapproving father who pushed him towards academics and athletics, Michael became a professional dancer with the San Francisco Opera Ballet and performed leading roles with many regional dance companies. He later went on to become a choreographer and much beloved teacher known for his spontaneity, humor and compassionate style.
Becoming your own inner ally is the key to being able to use life’s changes as doorways to expand. An improv game illuminated this for me. I participated in an exercise where each person took a turn standing in the center of a circle and attempted to spontaneously express themselves with words, sound or movement. The people in the outer circle were told to repeatedly and enthusiastically respond with one word, “NO!”
Even though it was just “pretend,” when I had my turn in the center of the circle I shrank, felt defensive, and increasingly inhibited. When my three minutes were up, the actors in the outer circle were instructed to switch their opinions, exclaiming “Yes!” to my dwindling antics. As I was affirmed, I became looser, sillier and my sounds and movements grew in audacity. What a difference their encouragement had on my freedom of expression!
What if I lived enveloped in my own resounding yes?

Would I, like Michael, gain courage from my inner ally as she calmed me or cheered me on in the face of adversity?

Wayne Dyer says, “What people think of you is none of your business.” For many of us, our first thirty-five years or so are spent fulfilling an agenda that was super-imposed on us from childhood and cultural influences. Without knowing it, we embark in a direction that is fueled by an underlying need to prove our worth and seek approval from others. Until one day, that motivation expires.

Trish, a charismatic, outgoing trainer from a Fortune 500 company never dreamed she would find a career that met so many of her needs. She was well paid for doing what she loved and got lots of “yesses”- immediate and positive feedback from the employees she taught. Her passion was watching the light bulbs go off for her participants as they learned new skills and strategies. But to be successful at her job, Trish felt she needed to put in sixty and sometimes seventy-hour workweeks.
Since moving from Boise to take the job in California ten years ago , Trish never seemed to have the time to develop close relationships. Her social and emotional fulfillment relied heavily on her interactions with students. But as time went on, this substitute for intimacy no longer satisfied her. Trish felt like she was masquerading as a confident, upbeat person at work. On weekends, she could barely drag herself out of bed. Promoted to the position of instructional designer, she made a startling discovery: She was dreadfully unhappy.
At first, she was convinced it was because she wasn’t cut out for her new job. Through sleepless nights, she agonized over what to do. “Why is this happening to me? I don’t have the skill-set for this job!” “Should I decline this new role, and campaign to get my old job back?” But then Trish took an honest look at her life. She had become dependent on the fix of others’ approval. What used to make up for her lack of friends and family could no longer sustain her. Now with her new job limiting her exposure to others’ positive feedback, she was in dire need of her own.
It would be great if like some houseplants, we came with instructions. But what makes us thrive, our special “care and feeding”- we must discover by ourselves. What if Trish took the point of view that like every one of us she is perfectly designed to flourish and be happy? That all we need do is remove the judgment and get curious about what our particular needs are.
Trish made a list of fifty things she wanted – a quick way to grease the wheels of her desires. Trish’s list ran the gamut from buying shoes in Italy, to buying a home, to being in a full-length feature movie, to being in a fulfilling relationship. As she wrote, she questioned herself, “Are these the right things?” “What does this say about me?” “Do I really want that?” Because she had tuned out the voice of her true desire for so long, she wasn’t really sure what was important to her. Many of her desires had been readily and regularly dismissed with louder thoughts like, “Oh sure. I can’t even get off the couch on the weekends. How could I ever orchestrate that?”
The strongest recurring desire was to own her own home and live close to her family and friends. That one was always met with the same, “Yeah, someday, later.”
As she thought more about owning her own home and living closer to friends she started to realize, “Hey this isn’t so unreasonable to expect!” The pain of her current existence had also became a motivator, “ I don’t want to keep living my life the way I have been.” She decided to say “Yes” to herself. Trish made a commitment to do one thing just for herself every weekend. And she has ever since.
By saying yes to her own desires, Trish became her own inner ally. She became more energized and confident about her new job opportunity. She began to see that her career change had built-in benefits personally designed for her. With a job that required less of an emotional investment, she could use her newly garnered energy to reprioritize her life with her needs at the center.
Trish decided to approach her boss with a powerful request. She had been out-performing the company’s expectations for the last ten years. The “trainer” aspect of her job involved travel, so she was adept at working remotely. The new instructional designer part of her job could be done from any location. Would they support her dream to relocate closer to friends and family?
Trish’s self-affirming stand for her truest desires was rewarded by a YES from the universe. She is now the proud owner of her own home… in Boise!
Like Trish, as we stay open and curious about the events in our lives instead of resisting them, we discover surprising gifts. By approving of and advocating for our deepest desires, we become our own inner ally. And whether you need to say yes or no, the next time you find yourself at a twisty turn or crossroad, consider making the choice that says YES to life!