|Where is Your Yes?|
My last book, Say Yes to No, started with a crisis, in the midst of a cardiologist’s office to determine whether I had stress-related health issues. This book doesn’t start with a crisis, but a critical realization nonetheless.
That realization happened a few times, once when Jeffrey Ressner of USA Today Weekend interviewed me about the way Say Yes to No related to Jim Carrey’s movie, Yes Man. In this movie, Jim Carrey plays Carl Allen, a man who simply declares a pre-emptive “no” to everything that comes his way. He is miserable, that is until he goes to a self-help seminar where the guru forces him to make a covenant where he will declare “yes” to every opportunity that comes his way. Every opportunity. That covenant puts Carl Allen in some fairly unusual moments, but ultimately Carl finds that saying yes opens up his life.
That fact naturally led to a question that Jeffery posed: “How does this film relate to your book that emphasizes the importance of nos?”
My answer? “My book starts about two-thirds of the way into the movie, where Carl begins to realize he can’t say yes to everything.”
So I’m not against saying yes and I wasn’t when I wrote Say Yes to No. Put another way, I never wanted to be known as “Dr. No,” But I wanted to emphasize that when we declare too many yeses, we burn out. Instead we have to discover a nurturing no or two, the kind that provides for health, excellence, and life. But I gradually realized that I needed to say more.
Continually through conversations about the book, I heard something like this: “Greg, I do like what you’re written, but I don’t know my yeses. How do I find those?” One even continued further. Referring to my analogy of Michelangelo seeing the sculpture of David before he ever put the chisel to the marble, this question came to me, “How can you help people find their David? I think many people haven’t. And that’s really a struggle.”
My reply was that the yeses have always been reasonably easy for me to find. But now I need to take outline what it means to say yes and where, when, and how we declare nine key yeses.
Why then the change to “yes”? Why write this book, When to Say Yes?
So then I offer a brief an update since 2008.
I began Say Yes to No with a period of struggle in 2001 (and finished it around 2008) where I had said, and tried to live out, too many yeses. I’m happy to say that I’m no longer enmeshed in the stress outlined in the first chapter of Say Yes to No, but the struggle is subtler and never fully leaves. Healthy practices whether to manage our physical well-being to fight the lure of what I earlier described as “schedule obesity”—an over-fed commitment to tasks—are habits to cultivate. I keep working on the relationship between the right yeses and nos, and it’s vital to take hold of what your yeses really are.
The economy also helped my cause a bit, or at least made the need for no even more apparent. The serious economic crisis of 2008 and its continuation over the past four years, the meltdown of the stock market, the crisis of confidence in our banks and Wall Street leaders, all led us to the recognition: we had declared too many yeses for too long—yeses to buying that we can’t sustain. The United States had bought houses it couldn’t afford and too many HD TVs on second mortgages and lines of credit.
There is also one secondary element: I began to focus more on the market place through the public relations campaign for Say Yes to No. I also found myself engaging more business-related topics and commenting on CNBC.com’s blog, interviews on Business News Network and businessweek.com, as well as the American Management Association’s publications like MWorld and Executive Matters. I began to ask why and realized that calling—or to use a bit more expensive term, vocation—is critical to what I’m doing with yes and no.
But here’s one thing about calling and our yes: I believe it’s not just about where and how we work, it’s about how we respond to all the triangle of our life—personal life, work, and love.
Finally, yes is basic to faith. As the noted author Kathleen Norris has written in the introduction to Amazing Grace, human infants “build a vocabulary, making sense of the chaos of sound that bombards the senses.” She continues, “Eventually the rudiments of words come; often ‘Mama,’ ‘Dada,’ ‘Me,’ and the all-powerful ‘No!’ An unqualified “Yes” is harder sell, to both children and adults.” Actually I had always thought that nos were harder, that setting out boundaries in a world of seemingly infinite possibilities posed the greatest challenge. But Norris ties saying yes to realities of faith.
To say “yes” is to make a leap of faith, to risk oneself in a new and often scary relationship. Not being quite sure of what we are doing, or where it will lead us, we try on assent, we commit ourselves to affirmation. With luck, we find that our efforts are rewarded. The vocabulary of faith begins.
Yes is also central to understanding Jesus, at least according to the Apostle Paul who wrote, “In him it is always ‘ Yes.’ For in him every one of God's promises is a “Yes’” (1 Corinthians 1:19-20).
All in all, this shift from no to yes has required that I become more explicit in the place that God has in this task. I realize that we can say yes “to the Universe” and say yes “to the way we are made.” If you translate my references to God in that way, I won’t quibble. I have always wanted to communicate to those who are spiritually open, but not religiously identified. But I speak as a Christian, and, as Kathleen Norris pointed out, yes is a bit of a leap of faith, and it opens us up to their being a greater Yes behind this universe. Or perhaps put another way, our saying yes to call implies that someone calls us. As a Christian, this means God’s call, expressed definitively in Jesus.
So it’s time to look at when to say yes.