Saying “Yes” Part II

Ballet Dancer - Edgar Degas

Ballet Dancer – Edgar Degas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve had some people ask me after reading my last post on ‘Saying “yes”‘, “Doesn’t saying “yes” all the time just get you in over your head? You have to say “no” sometimes, otherwise people might take advantage of you.”

Good point, but that’s not what I meant. I didn’t mean to say that we should always say “yes” to everything everyone asks us to do. That would be impossible, and take us so far away from the place I was hinting at, that it would be a disaster. But, as you and I know, that is a disaster that many (most) of us are living in right now.

I also didn’t mean to say that we should say “yes” to our every inclination. If you feel inclined to say “yes” to leaving your family and your children, might I suggest you say “no.” You could also throw in paying your bills, finishing you education, doing your dishes… you get my point.

The “yes” I was alluding to is something much deeper. It’s not even something I’ve been able to define for myself so that I can describe it for you. But I know it has to do with your soul, and what you were put on this earth to do.

Think of three little girls in a ballet class. One is very good, but her parents don’t think ballet is a proper occupation for a grown woman. They splurge when the girl is young, sending her to classes, buying her slippers and putting her hair up tight behind her head. When she really starts to blossom into a dancer, they tell her that she needs to focus on other things, other classes that will assure her a spot in the best business school. She obeys their choice for her, and years later is moderately successful. But whenever she goes to see the ballet, she cries in the dark, not for the beauty of the dance, but because she is the missing one on that stage.

The second girl isn’t naturally gifted. But her parents urge her to keep trying, to not give up. She tries and tries, and years go by, but she doesn’t improve. Her mother, who always dreamed of her little girl on the stage, keeps insisting that she try harder, and that quitting is for losers. The girl is good in school and begins to develop a love for biology, and zoology, and wants to become a marine biologist. But that isn’t what a girl should be doing, her parents say. She stays in dance class until she fractures her ankle, and she is relieved that she doesn’t have to dance for someone else anymore.

The third girl is a good dancer, and she loves to dance. Her parents encourage her. She has good grades, and her parents tell her that she doesn’t have to keep dancing if she’d rather do something else. But she really wants to improve. They support her, taking her to lessons, encouraging her, watching her perform. The girl is driven, because she gets so much pleasure from dancing. It sweeps her away, it makes her feel right. It’s what she wants to do forever. When the time comes to choose a college, her parents tell her to “make the choice that you will never, not once, regret for the rest of your life.” They know she is too young to know something like that, but their experience tells them that the world is limitless, that their daughter will go as far as her drive, and that nothing gets done without hard work. There is only one way for her to know if she is good enough, she has to do it.

On the night of her first performance with a major ballet company, her parents are the ones crying in the crowd, maybe next to girl number one, because they are seeing how dreams come true. They come true because first you want them, then you prepare for them, then you prepare some more, and finally you choose them. You say “yes.”

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Saying “yes”

I’ve crammed a lot into my 38 years. Over a decade in the military, two wars, travel to five continents, a crippling disease, surgeries, recovery. All of those things happened to me without even really thinking about them, and in the case of my illness, without my permission. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. So much of my life, and yours I suspect, just ‘happens.’ We don’t make it happen. And sometimes we find ourselves at life’s midway point without really having done the things we truly love, and very rarely saying ‘yes’ to real happiness.

It’s very hard to say ‘yes’ to things in life. There is a chance that we might hear a ‘no.’ Maybe we will be rejected, hurt. Maybe we will fail.

But life can’t start until you say ‘yes.’ It is saying ‘yes’ that makes us grow, makes us learn, and makes life matter.

Hearing a ‘no’ isn’t a bad thing. I finished my first novel over a decade ago. I thought I was ready. I wasn’t. I received many ‘no’s’ – from agents, from publishers, from friends. But I persisted. I wrote another book. I thought I was ready then. I wrote another novel. And another. Looking back on them, I am so glad that they weren’t published in the condition they were in. They were all good stories – I think – but they weren’t told in the best way. I was still learning. Those ‘no’s’ were actually blessings.

The only other thing I wanted to do in life was to be a songwriter. I spent my high school years in my room, recording songs on my little 4-track recorder. I though I was ready. Oh boy, I really wasn’t ready. I still had, and have, a lot to learn.

What is the difference between the books you see on the shelf at the store, or the song you hear on the radio, and the ones that might be sitting somewhere in a dusty closet in your house? The difference is someone took a chance. Someone decided that, although they might be rejected, they might be criticized, they might be laughed at, the prize was worth it. That prize isn’t money, it isn’t fame, it isn’t notoriety. It is being able to wake up every morning and work from the moment you get up, until you go to bed, on something that you completely and truly love. I did that yesterday as I recorded a song for the first time in 15 years. It’s not perfect, it’s not professional quality, but it’s not bad for some guy sitting at his messy desk in a dark room. I want to feel like that every day.

That feeling, for me, is not in an office, it’s not in a repair shop, it’s not in a classroom. For me, it is writing – stories, songs, bringing an idea that never existed before to life. It’s not what everyone loves, it’s not what everyone wants to do. But everyone has something that they really love to do, something that they are passionate about. Maybe you always wanted to go to medical school. Maybe you want to be a teacher. Maybe you want to build a rocket that will take people into space. Many of us are not doing what we really wanted to be doing in life. And I think the reason is that, somewhere along the line, we didn’t say yes.

How much different would life be if we had said ‘yes?’ Maybe it’s not too late.

I believe it is never too late to say yes. But it never gets any easier. Faced with never knowing what could be, and the chance that it might be, I’m going to try taking ‘yes’ from now on. I won’t have sport cars, big houses, private planes, but I think I’ll be happier. You can’t buy that.

What do you wish you’d said yes to? I’d like to know.