I recently read Shonda Rhimes’ wonderful book Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person.
Here’s a funny thing, though. I didn’t even want to read it. I’d seen the title, but it hadn’t really resonated with me.
Left to my own devices, I’d said “no” to reading it.
Then, suddenly, I’m helping a client with a non-fiction proposal, and Year of Yes is one of the competitive titles. It crossed my path in a business capacity – I’d literally been paid to read it.
It was wonderful, and yet still a shock to the system. (Honestly, it was a bit like having an eyebrow waxing while eating an ice cream sundae… scrumptious, with a serious side of ouch.)
The ultimate concept of the book is: Shonda Rhimes, one of the most successful television writers ever, has crippling social anxiety. She buries herself in her work. Her sister pointed out: “You never say yes to anything.” So she made a pact with herself. As she texted her friend:
“Am going to say yes to anything and everything that scares me. For a whole year. Or until I get scared to death and you have to bury me. Ugh.”
And then, for the next year, her life changed radically.
Rhimes’ plight is one any introverted writer is familiar with.
Shonda Rhimes’ epiphany initially seems hard to relate to. She’d gone to the Kennedy Center and, through a stroke of luck, had sat next to Santana, and met the President and his wife and socialized. She later realizes that, had she been asked prior to the impromptu experience, she would have politely said “no.”
She describes it:
“I would have said no carefully. Respectfully. Graciously. I would have come up with a creative excuse, expressed both extreme honor and regret. The excuse would’ve been good, the excuse would’ve been brilliant.
I mean, come on. I’m a writer.
I would have said no because if I had said yes, I would have had to actually do it…. I would have had to do all of the things that I, in fact, did do that night. And I had a wonderful time. When all was said and done, it was one of the most memorable nights of my life.”
After reading the chapter, I thought to myself: what amazing things would I have missed out on, had I not said yes, in one way or another?
And then: what amazing things am I missing now?
The Hard and the Soft.
A mentor of mine once said that any dream, any goal, needs you to take action in two planes: the Hard and the Soft.
Things that take place in the Hard are actions: getting your butt in the chair and pages typed out, for example. Sending out submissions. Formatting and uploading stuff for sale on ebook distribution sites. Promotion. Those are things that take place in the tangible world.
But equally important are the steps you take in the Soft. That’s where you take care of yourself, nurture your subconscious, feed your energy. That’s where you get in alignment with what you want, visualize it, and then make space for it in your life.
Saying yes is a huge step in the Soft.
Saying yes is what makes the space in your life for the new thing. It sets your intention and your direction. It sets off some cosmic dominoes: once that first one’s tapped, there’s no going back.
All the plans in the world stay static until you pull the trigger with that first yes.
And my fears – my family, my job, all the reasons I couldn’t say yes – were simply excuses, when I sat down with it. I wasn’t doing them any favors by refusing the call. If anything, I was actually making situations worse.
Be careful what you conjure.
I’ve noticed that my internal guide tends to be a warm, quiet, utterly steady voice. That’s what I need to say yes to.
Unfortunately, I have a Greek chorus of fears that tend to scream like ten-year-olds on a roller coaster. If I’m not careful, I drown out my “yes” to what really matters with a bunch of fake and often harmful yes responses.
Yes to an entire cake!
Yes to reading until two in the morning!
Yes to projects that will pay the bills, but won’t get me closer to my own writing!
That’s not to say that cake, late night reading, or paying the bills projects are inherently bad. But they need to be conscious choices, not defensive ones. When they’re defensive, they are dangerous.
A ship in harbor is safe – but that’s not what ships are built for.
It sounds melodramatic, but the book has already started to change my life in unexpected ways. I’ve said yes to some contracts coming in. I’ve said yes to an impromptu screenwriting project.
Am I scared? Absolutely. Failure is definite possibility.
But I’m also feeling invigorated. And honestly, since opening up the space, some amazing things have been happening.
Whatever else occurs, each yes has been worth it.
Writing takes risks. It takes courage.
Ultimately… it takes yes. A whole lot of it.
What “yes” has changed your life? And, if you were fearless, what would you say “yes” to right now?