Saying YES to a year of no

Recently I read about Shonda Rhimes’* book titled A Year of Yes.

Apparently, despite her fame and success, Rhimes was in the habit of hiding behind the safety of ‘No’ – declining A-list invitations and avoiding high profile events that many people, myself included, would do anything to attend. To push herself out of her comfort zone and overcome her fears, Rhimes made a commitment that for one year she would say yes to everything. According to the book write up, after living through this experiment Rhimes ‘reveals how saying YES changed her life—and how it can change yours too.’ My first thought was Oh my god, YES, I need to do that, living a year of Yes will be my New Year’s Resolution – quickly followed by my second thought - Oh my god, no, no, no, that’s what I already do and saying yes has landed me in the overscheduled, overextended and severely overtired state in which I reside today.

Then I started thinking, what if I make 2016 A Year of No? If Yes is my default response, then for me to exit my comfort zone I need to learn to say No. This idea makes me deeply uncomfortable, after all, I say yes to everything –– if there is a committee to join, a project to volunteer for or an event to organize I can be relied on to say Yes. People probably automatically write my name in the YES column, because my likelihood to answer in the affirmative is so reliable. It wouldn’t surprise me if the decline function in my calendar no longer works, languishing from neglect.

Before you judge me, remember, I’m not the only Yes sayer out there. One of my mentors, currently the CEO of a global PR firm, often gives ‘Say Yes’ as her top career tip; in Tina Fey’s book Bossypants she talks about saying ‘Yes and’ as a winning strategy for improv comedy, and for life; and Amy Poehler titled her book Yes Please – I mean, it’s right there on the cover.

Finding myself in such good company, I have to ask, what’s so wrong with saying yes?

Thinking about it, I started to realize that the problem lies not in saying yes, but in saying it too often. One open door creates opportunity, but when every door is open it’s hard to know whether you are coming or going. By saying yes to every call, committee and click group I have exposure to lots of different people and projects, but I find I’m rarely as focused on things as I would like to be. I always end up wishing recommendations were more thought through and presentations were more polished – but when you say yes to anything and everything, it can be challenging to give a single thing the dedicated attention it deserves.

This all leads to the very obvious question – why can’t I say No? I suspect it is as simple as FOMO. Even before the acronym was articulated and trending, it was my driving force, compelling me to always answer in the affirmative. While Rhimes feared the unknown, I always assume that behind is every invitation is an unmissable glittering opportunity that far outshines anything I am currently doing, until of course…the next opportunity arises. The problem with being so keen to ‘swipe right’ at everything that comes my way is that I never get the chance to fully explore and appreciate what I’m currently doing before I’m lured by the chance to say yes to something new.

So, while it goes against every instinct I have I am going to say Yes to saying No for a year and see how things turn out. I will say no to being quadruple booked, no to joining extracurricular activities that don’t remotely relate to my skill set and no to saying yes just because no one else has said yes yet. The only way to make this more appealing to myself is to remember that by saying no, I am saying yes to doing things better – to spending more time uncovering insights, creating campaigns that matter and on solving problems with colleagues and clients. Does this New Year’s resolution feel comfortable? No. Do I believe it is the right challenge to undertake? Y….…ou know what I was going to say ;-)

*the brains behind Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder and Grey’s Anatomy if you are not up on pop culture or you happen to be my husband

Avra Lorrimer

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search