I'm running late again. This message, in fact, is past due. It's been a busy summer, full of exciting new travels (invitation to teach in Burundi, global health trips), more conference calls than I can count (academies, task forces, appointed work groups), and lots of backyard BBQs with family and friends. An abundance of opportunities, passport stamps, and laughs. I should not be complaining. And I'm not, really. It's just that it is all a bit tiring.
You see, starting earlier this year I tried something I had heard about back in 2016. Shonda Rhimes, Hollywood executive and producer (and yes, creator of Grey's Anatomy) wrote a book, Year of Yes, where she described how she spent a year trying her best to not say “no” to any opportunities that came her way.1 In it she tells of how freeing and accepting and transformative saying yes, consistently, was for her. Doors opened, opportunities flourished. But she's Shonda Rhimes, and I'm ... well, I'm me. I don't work in Hollywood. I don't take high-powered meetings and lunches. I took strange comfort from this quote, however, “Everyone's got some greatness in them. You do. The girl over there does. That guy on the left has some. But in order to really mine it, you have to own it. You have to grab hold of it. You have to believe it.” What would saying “yes” do for my life? A question like that can't be answered without trying. And if I'm honest, I figured if it got out of control I would always have “no” in my back pocket. For a rainy day.
Let's be clear, no is a powerful word. An important word. Necessary. It rolls so easily off the tongue. It is an escape hatch of sorts. Say “no” and people back off. Leave you alone. Stop asking. But use it without thought, careful thought, and it can strand you. Alone, stagnant, treading water. I felt myself in a bit of a rut and figured a bold experiment in agreement might be just what I needed. After returning from a vacation earlier this year, I decided to launch my year of yes. But just to be on the safe side, I didn't tell anyone. Just in case they thought they could capitalize on it.
I'm almost 6 months in now. It's been hard, it's been freeing, it's been simultaneously the best and the worst thing I've done in a long time. I'm finding myself a bit underwater, but I'm also finding that with some honesty and negotiation that isn't always an actual problem. It's a fear I perpetuated in my own head. I find myself taking more time for myself (“Yes, I want to watch another episode, Netflix!”) and more time spending time with family and friends. I was worried that I would become more entrenched with work and volunteer activities. While what I realized was I had been mostly saying yes to those things, at the expense of my personal life. So while I'm a bit overwhelmed, I'm also more balanced. And possibly a bit happier.
So, if I'm a little late on an email or a phone call, I am sorry. Truly sorry. But I'm running an experiment in how to manage opportunity. I'm learning how to be a better version of myself. And I hope you understand. More importantly, I hope you take this as a challenge. Can you do a day, a week, a month, or even a year of yes? What doors might it open up for you? For your loved ones? I guarantee you will learn a lot about yourself. All of us hold within us the power of “yes,” right alongside the power of “no.” The key is to understand how the power of these two words propels our lives, our work, our inner selves.
Sharon L. Gorman, PT, DPTSc
Board-Certified Geriatric Clinical Specialist,
Fellow, National Academies of Practice,
President, Academy of Acute Care Physical Therapy