Typically, women are told we need to learn how to say no. We do too much, take on too many things. We feel guilty if we don’t, and resentful when we do. Having just run through the holiday party/cookie exchange/teacher gift/charity giving gauntlet, I can certainly understand the importance of saying no. It’s just SO HARD. I mean, how could I pass up cute kids in holiday sweaters lisping their way through “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” even if it meant sitting through a 3-hour (!!) concert in a sweaty school gym?
So when I saw TV writer/producer/Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes on Super Soul Sunday talking about the year she spent saying yes to things, I took notice. Wait. What? Say YES more? I’m confused. But I quickly realized these are 2 sides of the same coin. The message is, say no to the things you don’t want to do so you can say yes to the things you do.
Shonda’s epiphany came in saying yes to things that scared her, yes to things she’d previously dismissed without consideration, yes to the unexpected. And that is actually something I’ve been doing myself this past year. Let’s take a look back through ye olde archives, shall we?
In January, I said yes to doing cartwheels and climbing walls with my kids. My boys and I don’t always have the same idea of what constitutes a fun activity. (Minecraft? Stomping in mud puddles? Pass.) But sometimes it really is more fun to join them and get in on the action than to just sit on the sidelines passing out snacks and wet wipes.
In February I said to an out-of-town friend, “Yes, come stay with us!” even though Baltimore was in the midst of a blizzard and my loud and messy children were snowed in with us and my walls need to be painted and my towels don’t match.
In March, I said yes to spontaneity and helped build an igloo. (And no to over-scheduling my family.)
In April, I said yes to collaborating with my 8yo on a children’s story about a clumsy crab. I also said yes to dancing with a bellydancer at a Turkish restaurant. In public. (No, I did not balance a sword on my head.)
In May I said yes to celebrating Mother’s Day my way. (No to brunch, yes to kayaking!)
In June I said yes to attending a blog conference with an old friend, even though it was my son’s birthday that weekend and I felt guilty about spending the money. But I was reminded once again that learning new things and connecting with like-minded people is well worth it.
In July, my husband was in the hospital for 11 days and I said yes to accepting help. A LOT of help. From a LOT of different people. For some reason, this is hard for many women, including me. It’s humbling but necessary to accept that no one can do it all, all by herself.
This is a good time to point out another tough lesson I learned this year: sometimes saying no to other people and yes to yourself pisses people off. I think we can sometimes get the message that saying no (or yes, as the case may be) is noble and empowering and the outcome is always as rosy as a Valencia-filtered Instagram photo. In reality, however, people will sometimes make you feel like complete crap for saying no (or yes). That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. It just means that it really does take guts to go against the culturally expected flow. I know Olivia Pope knows what I’m talking about. OK, moving on…
I also said yes to an impromptu roadtrip with another mom whose husband also had no vacation time left. 4 kids, ages 5 mos. to 9 years, a mountain of luggage, and adjoining hotel rooms. Mom, will you go down the waterslide too? Yes! Mom, can we have a picnic on the hotel room floor? Yes! Mom, can we jump on the bed? Yes! Our “momcation” was a spontaneous, fun-filled, all-ages adventure and a lesson to me in how easy it can be to say yes sometimes when you don’t overthink it.
In September, I said yes to resuming my morning ritual when the kids went back to school.
In October, I said yes to mini (OK, micro) makeover projects that made me feel better about my home.
In November, I said yes to adventure and family and a somewhat poorly planned but ultimately fun and memorable Thanksgiving trip.
And in December I said yes to learning new culinary skills with my son, and to writing a fun blog post in exchange for sweets.
All in all, my Year of Yes was everything I could have hoped for. But let’s lose the perception that making carefully considered decisions—whether to say yes or no to things—is always easy or always turns out the way we hope. Let’s remind ourselves instead that everything worthwhile takes intention and attention.
So here’s to an intentional, meaningful, fun, and amazing New Year! What will you say yes to this year?