Yes doesn’t have to scream—it’s that powerful

 

There is this amazing story about the day John Lennon and Yoko Ono met: in the Fall of 1966, Yoko was in London for an art exhibition. Already an accomplished avant-garde artist, Yoko was displaying her works at the Indica Gallery as part of an exhibition called Unfinished Paintings and Objects.

John visited the gallery the day before the show was scheduled to open. He was skeptical about the displays, and the artist herself, who greeted him with a card that read, literally, “Breathe.”

A ladder and telescope

One piece got his attention, though: Yoko had placed a ladder that led up to a canvas on the ceiling on which some tiny type appeared. John had to climb the ladder and look through a small telescope to see what it said.

You might’ve expected the word to be “love” or “hope,” but as John stood there squinting through the magnifying glass on top of that small ladder, he could see that the word was “Yes.”

I heard this story a long time ago, and I never forgot it. What does it say about me (maybe about you too 😊) that this story would be so intriguing in the sense of being unique, memorable, thought-provoking?

What is it about yes that might matter so much?

Yoko’s message

Sometimes I play a game with myself (maybe not a game, more like a spiritual exercise): I ask myself if I knew my life would soon be over, what would be the one or two or 20 things I’d be most mad I didn’t accomplish?

Thinking about that list, I ask myself: “Am I making those things, or that one thing, a priority in my life? Am I saying yes to it and concentrating my best energy there?”

It’s a great reality check: am I saying yes to the right things in my life? The things that really matter to me and the people I love? Or (more likely when I check-in like this), am I cluttering up my life with a bunch of urgent stuff — the in-my-face unavoidable deadlines of life, the errands I have to run, appointments I need to keep, deadlines I can’t avoid — and not focusing on the goals that aren’t urgent but definitely important? My beautiful, amazing, super-critical-to-me goals and bucket list?

Like this:

Urgent Important
Get to work on time Plan my next career move
Pay bills Create a savings plan
Fix a cavity Get teeth cleaned
Make dinner Plan and buy a week of healthy groceries

The reason I love this reality check is that, like Yoko, I’m learning that what I say yes to is incredibly important, an idea I think her piece was signaling by making yes small and hard to see.

Yes doesn’t have to scream — it’s that powerful.

Our own four-minute mile

Yes Changes Everything!For decades, running the mile in less than four minutes was considered impossible, beyond the physical capacity of the human body. Then one day in 1954 on the Iffley Road track in Oxford, England, something incredible happened: in front of 3,000 spectators, a 25-year-old medical student named Roger Bannister ran a mile in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds.

More amazing than the achievement itself was what happened afterward. Though forever, runners had tried without success to break the four-minute mile, within a few weeks, the record was broken again. In a few years, the mile had been run in less than four minutes hundreds of times. Today, the record stands at just over 3 minutes and 43 seconds.

He said yes

Years later, Roger Bannister remembered almost changing his mind about the run that day as the winds were strong and unpredictable. Finally though, about 20 minutes before the start, he said yes, and made history. Everyone else shook their heads, but he nodded at an inconceivable goal and rose to an impossible occasion.

In doing so, he changed the impossible to the possible. And not just by baking a better cake! Imagine: he’d unbounded the physical limits of the human body. And without knowing it, he’d also ushered in the beginning of a new era in sports. Because today, athletes don’t see records as limits. They see them as challenges.

This is clear as we watch world-class athletes perform: as each year passes they just take our breath away, whether it’s Simone Biles in gymnastics or Michael Phelps in swimming, what they are able to achieve would’ve been unimaginable a generation ago. Roger Bannister set this mentality in motion by saying yes to a race on a windy day more than 50 years ago.

What must it have been like to learn he had achieved this feat?

I think we know. Yeah, we do. Think about a challenge you rose to, something you tried that you never had before. That time you raised a sweaty hand. Said okay in a shaky voice. Logged in and registered for something with butterflies banging around in your stomach. Signed up for that course in a subject you knew nothing about. Said, “I’m going to try,” when everyone else said, “Why bother? It’s impossible,” or “You? You’ve never done that!”

We’ve all risked yes in the past, otherwise we’d all still be where we were ten years ago. We reached further than what we could see from our own window (or job or friend group or relationship or experience or routines), even when we knew it was a stretch, and we surprised ourselves, not always in huge dramatic ways, but we did surprise ourselves.

Challenge, change, and learning

Challenge, change, and learning all go together (usually in that order!) for a reason. So we rose to an occasion and found out something. We learned what works, what doesn’t, who we can count on, who we can’t. What we’re capable of, what was too much of a stretch at the time…in other words, something worthwhile, no matter what the actual outcome was.

And the good didn’t end there, because what Roger Bannister did broke through not a physical barrier as much a mental one. His achievement, and more to the point what it set in motion, says a lot about mental barriers that become physical ones in our minds, which can become as solid as a brick wall blocking our way forward. It also speaks to just how powerful we are, what we can accomplish in ways that can absolutely amaze everyone, including ourselves.

And it starts with yes:

  • “Yes, I’ll try.”
  • “Yes, I can.”
  • “Yes, there’s hope.”
  • “Yes, it’s possible.”
  • “Yes, I’d like to see.”

Experiences that challenge us change us

I always feel sorry for lottery winners or people who have inherited great wealth — I really do — because without the financial and professional challenges and yes, struggles of life, they are more prone to depression. They feel weak because their spiritual and intellectual muscles aren’t facing the resistance they need to get strong. They’re often scared and maybe defensive because their guts aren’t being tested, and they don’t have confidence in how they’d react if they were. They haven’t had the joy of seeing themselves rise to new challenges.

It’s just impossible to underestimate the incredible importance of meaningful work and life challenges and experiences.

We don’t want everything handed to us

Think of the stories of young performers or movie stars who’ve made tons of money before they’re even 25 years old and therefore “don’t have to work a day in their lives”: too many of them fall into deep depression and even self-destructive habits. There’s a reason for this, and I don’t think that we need to have a lot of psychological science or case studies to know what it is. As humans, we crave challenge. It makes us feel alive and strong and capable and confident. Without it, our souls and self-esteem truly suffer.

We actually, in truth, in our hearts don’t want to have everything handed to us. It doesn’t make us feel valuable or strong or capable or confident. It can even be crippling. We need to prove to ourselves how strong we are, what were made of. How powerful, able to run back into the metaphorical flames and phoenix out of them again and again.

This has to be one of the reasons that when we face tough times in our lives, so many of us say the same thing: “At least I got to go to work,” and “I feel so much better when I’m at work. It lets me focus on something other than what I’m going through,” and “I don’t know what I would do without my job/profession/kids/business to focus on.”

We need enterprise; we need work. It makes us strong. It gives us resilience.

Tough experience is a gift

This is why challenging experiences, growth and confidence all go hand-in-hand. It’s why I tell my kids that not every experience that’s good for us feels good when it’s happening. Not liking camp, being embarrassed when they lose a game, the first day of…anything, being corrected by a coach or teacher…all these and more are making them stronger, more resilient, and smarter, in ways that positive experiences just can’t. Tough experiences are a life-long gift because we remember them long afterward. Whether that helps us not repeat a mistake, stay away from certain types of people, turn down job offers that aren’t right for us, or anything else we learned about “the hard way.”

When we embrace this, we can say yes to tough experiences and bumpy roads and tough climbs that we know will activate our minds and muscles. These challenges make us excited to get up in the morning and face the day, with energy flowing through us, electrifying every corner of our bodies. We feel focused and alive, resourceful and creative.

Oh yes we do.

When we wobble, we grow!

…from my next book, Yes Changes Everything! Coming in May 2020!

“You’ve got to sing like you don’t need the money,
Love like you’ll never get hurt;
You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watchin’
It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work.”

These are lyrics from the song, “Come from the Heart” by Susanna Clark and Richard Leigh. I love them! They help me relax my grip on whatever I’m trying to do and ditch the illusion of ever being perfect at it (…and *exhale*).

Yes Changes Everything!

Perfection is just someone’s opinion anyway. The perfect cake, song, beer, or whatever is in the eye of the beholder. We may think a song is perfect, but to someone else, it’s just noise. A beer may be out of this world to us—just perfection—but someone else may think it’s awful. That means a perfect home, city, restaurant, or night out doesn’t exist. It’s not objective and real like the chair I’m sitting on or the candle burning next to me or Blossie curled up on my lap as I write this.

The perfect whatever

When we buy into the illusion that perfection is possible, we also get a whole lot of frustration and staying in place. Because perfection isn’t a thing, so we end up exhausted, running after air, or worse, staying frozen in place because we think we haven’t got the talent or connections or money we need to go after the perfect whatever.

What we really need when we go after something new is heart, energy, and passion. Things that don’t take talent or connections or money but lead us to the amazing goodness that’s hiding in plain sight, even if it’s a little dinged up or dusty or smaller than we’d thought.

Let’s wobble without fear

Something else we also need: to be okay outside our comfort zones, outside our safe, familiar space in an area where things get…wobbly. Where lines are thin and crooked. Where we stumble and fall. Where we’ve said yes to something for the first time, and we’re not good at it. It feels wobbly and weird, and it will come out tilted in the beginning—far from perfect.

But you know what, beautiful someone? Not only is wobbly okay, it’s great because when we wobble, we have to figure out what to do to steady ourselves. When things feel weird, we have to learn how to make them feel…unweird. When our cake, crocheted llama, or row of garden basil comes out gnarled and curly, we have to figure out how to straighten it out and in the process, learn a whole lot about what doesn’t work. When we wobble, we grow.

So let’s wobble, and let’s not be afraid.

Like nobody’s watching

And while we wobble, let’s turn off the noise—whether that’s opinions or articles or “experts” or headlines. Let’s tell them to shush. We’re trying to grow here. We can’t be distracted by every click that comes our way.

And hey, beautiful someone, see you outside our comfort zones where we sing like we don’t need the money and dance like nobody’s watching.

“Failure”: A brand new view

When we find ourselves in tough situations, they become less frustrating, less likely to make us label ourselves a failure or some other negative thing if we decide we’re going to look at them as a sign that we’re growing and doing it all on purpose.

Instead of allowing tough situations to bring us down, we’re making them work for us.

It’s like: “At the time, it was just awful. But in hindsight, facing that [layoff/fight/awful person/ridiculous job] was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Real people/their stories:

  • “I really don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t go through my divorce. At the time, it was terrible, but having to deal with John cheating on me woke me up to just how strong I am and how much being able to trust someone really means to me.”
  • “I look around my shop and think, ‘Look what I would have missed out on if I hadn’t gotten fired and instead stayed in that awful job?’ I am so deliriously happy now.”
  • “When Jill quit at the worst possible time for my business, I couldn’t deny it any more: I was a terrible manager. Once I could see the price I was paying for not having a clue how to manage people, I grew up about it—read a few books, took some courses, and most of all, changed how I acted. Then, I added more people, and my business finally started to take off.”
  • “After Sara told a bunch of people that I wasn’t qualified to teach, I learned never to accept that kind of behavior from someone. I let it go that one time, and I know the consequences. I’ll be ready if there’s ever a next time.”
  • “I know now to trust my gut instinct when it comes to the people I meet. I went ahead and bought a car from someone who gave me a seriously bad vibe, and it came back to bite me. Cost me thousands and a night stranded on the highway in a snowstorm. Never again am I gonna let somebody I don’t trust talk me into something. If my instincts are telling me no, I don’t do it. End of story.”

In the end, these people saw a tough situation as a stepping stone. And here’s what’s really amazing: the experiences they had were bad (and sometimes really bad), and it would be naïve and just too “Suzy Sunshine” to pretend otherwise.

So I’m not trying to make light of our tough times, but there’s a secret weapon here: when we choose to see situations this way—as a stepping stone rather than a stumbling block—we automatically come out in a good place. We take the hit, but we don’t stay down. We deliberately CHOOSE to see a situation as a learning experience, not a defeat, embarrassment, waste of energy, or any other type of loss or closed door.

Unstoppable, that’s what we are.

Who are your sandpaper people?

We’ve all got our own sandpaper people. These are the family members, neighbors, and coworkers who test our patience, demand more from us than we’re willing to give, or just generally make us crazy.

Be grateful for them, beautiful someone! Honestly, their abrasive behavior is smoothing out our own rough edges and sharpening our dull ones.

  • If you’re super-restless and impatient, having to deal with people who run at a slower pace smooths out that impulsive edge on you.
  • If you’re a laid back, wait-and-see type person surrounded by an army of Type As at work, your own (overly?) relaxed approach to work is being energized as you keep pace with these people.
  • If you’re kind of emotional, being around people who are always calm may make you crazy, but it will also stop the freight train of feelings and impulses that can drag you all over the place.
  • If you’re a loner, friends who force you to go out are opening up your network, your mind, maybe even your world.
  • People who disagree with us make us think.
  • People whose values or beliefs differ from ours teach us tolerance, respect…or spiritual detachment as we learn to “live and let live.”

Our sandpaper people are making us try new things, think in new says, get exposed to new ideas and people, witness our own strength, and see ourselves with new potential.

Smarter and stronger

This is all preparation for your dream come true. In fact, sandpaper people are pretty much needed for progress. Every time an edge on us gets sanded down, every time a dull spot in our lives—something in need of polishing up—gets “buffed” by a sandpaper person, we’re getting wiser and more patient. We’re broadening our perspective and our horizons. We’re seeing things in new ways and thinking about them with a different perspective.

And I know it’s hard to believe it when it’s happening to us, but those sandpaper people—even the incredibly annoying ones—are lifting us to new heights, making us better at listening, building our patience, and strengthening our resolve to reach our dream come true…all in ways no other type of experience could. Every time they knock us off course or distract us or generally irritate us, we have to do the work to get back on track.

Again, even though we may not like it when it’s happening, this is all making us smarter and stronger. We don’t grow in the good times. Our growth spurts come through tough times, through adversity.

And sandpaper people = adversity.

Big time.

Fresh ideas

I asked some friends what they learned from the sandpaper people in their lives. Listen to a few:

  • “My last boss was such a bad manager, but I had to learn to work for her without going out of my mind. So I did. Today, I could totally work for anyone. Thanks to her, I have tons more patience and self-control. And it takes a lot to get me upset at work. No one could ever be as bad a manager as she was, and I survived. I can handle anything now.”
  • “I treat my friends really well because I’ve lived through some seriously bad situations with friends. I learned the hard way just how important love and loyalty really are.”
  • “I finally figured out what my grandmother meant when she said, ‘Smooth mountains give you nothing to grip onto as you climb.’ Definitely true, I don’t grow when everyone in my life is making things easy for me.”

Instead of seeing sandpaper people as just plain annoying, try to look at them as a growth spurt in the making, a chance to learn something really important and see new potential in yourself. Remember this especially when they make you want to scream. That’s a huge leap forward straight in the direction of your dream come true.