I have, over the years, come across a number of excellent articles on the value of learning to say ‘No’. And it is good advice. We bend over backwards, tie ourselves in knots and wear ourselves to shreds sometimes trying to do and be everything others ask of us. It is, just occasionally, okay to say no.
I will be the first to hold up my hand in guilt at this one, learning how and when to refuse has been a long, hard journey… and one I am still working on. The natural instinct is to be helpful and personally I have found saying yes to everything a hard habit to break. It is not easy to learn to accept that sometimes no is the best answer.
But what I find strange, amid all the helpful and useful articles about learning to say no, is that there is a dearth of similar advice about saying yes to life.
And sometimes that is precisely what we need to find the courage to do.
A few years ago I was given a simple yes/no option.
The no would have preserved the status quo, involved no risk, cherished the familiar and allowed life to continue a confortable pattern. I knew where I was heading, could understand the possibilities of the future, though not predict them, and even the not-so-good bits were homely and not completely unknown.
A yes would not only challenge all I knew and much of what I held dear, it would, it was clear, alter the dynamics of my life in ways I could not imagine or foretell. It would truly be a step in the dark, without any knowledge of the ground beneath my feet. Stepping out of my comfort zone and the life I knew would be like being stranded in a deep pool, blindfolded and disoriented, having to trust that I would be guided to shore.
Any deviation from the normality I knew was going to involve this journey into unknown territory. I could see some of the potential ‘cost’ in purely human terms but as the choice itself was quite tenuous and blurred, I could not see how far away from my usual path I would be walking.
In face of this uncertainty, my instinct was to say a firm ‘no’. I freely admit it was fear… self-preservation… a fear of loss, if you will.
Yet, it pulled and tugged and niggled away. Knowing it was my own fear that held me back forced me to look closely at the whys and wherefores of my thoughts and actions. Once I had understood that I was permitting fear to make my decisions for me, I rebelled. After all, I am my own responsibility.
So I said ‘yes’.
A few years later and we have brought to birth a School whose students already span the globe. There is a shelf of books with my name on the spine, many of them in a creative partnership that is a delight. I cannot believe how close I came to allowing fear to rob me of what has been undoubtedly one of the best decisions of my life.
I have been challenged and worked, I have learned and taught, shared and given. I have driven many thousands of miles across a country I love and made new friends the world over. A mirror has been held up for me in which I have seen many flaws and weaknesses, seen core beliefs challenged and stripped away and where I have been obliged to reassess much of what I had accepted through habit and lack of thought. And through fear.
My entire life and lifestyle have been turned upside down and inside out. I have been both shaken and stirred. There has been loss, but only because I have felt it so. There have been huge changes, yet that is no bad thing. I barely recognise my life any more when I contrast it with the one I knew… yet I am deeply, completely content, more than I had ever been. And more myself than I have ever allowed myself to be.
And this is just a beginning.
Instead of worrying about where this path will lead and what it might mean, I now embrace it and walk out into that nebulous tomorrow with my head held high, as I follow what my innermost heart says is right. I do not know where I will stand a year from now. I cannot see that shadowy me… but I do not need to. I have said yes to life and will live it with all that I am.
Sometimes Yes is the only answer.