A few exhales after my personal commitment to stop overscheduling myself, my editor presented me with a new challenge: Say yes to everything for one week. Starting the challenge straightaway, I excitedly agreed. From coffee breaks to spontaneous concerts, freelance gigs to free services, I was going to be the ultimate yes-woman. A dream colleague, a zealous friend, a super-helpful girlfriend, and potentially, a frazzled, overscheduled mess. I wrote “YES” on my hand so I wouldn’t forget, switched my brain into max-enthusiasm mode, and got started.
Monday alone was a doozy, by far the most invite-packed of the week—an extra coffee break that I certainly didn’t need (but enjoyed nonetheless), a networking happy hour, a press screening of Room, a concert that night at Radio City Music Hall, a book club, a ghostwriting job, a free salon service, and a non-specific open invitation to do pottery with a friend. All things that I likely would have said “yes” to anyway, I was ardent in my acceptance in all of the above—except the movie screening. (I valued the assignment, but not enough to give myself nightmares for a week.)
As the week wore on, I found myself continuing with the assignment while forgetting I was even doing it. Extra tasks at work? Of course! The opportunity to spend a day working in the HarperCollins booth at New York Comic Con? Absolutely. (P.S. Come visit me on Friday!) One of the things I did notice, however, was the volume of invitations that fell into a grey category. “We must chill soon!” friends declared. “This looks kind of interesting?” they typed alongside forwarded event invites. Facebook invitations were directed towards me—and 50 other people. Do these count as things I need to say “yes” to? They certainly don’t expect me to show up, do they? Is this even an invitation at all?
Our obsession with making very vague, very cancellable plans was on full display. It seemed that even my most solid social invitations were tentative. (They were, as several people later cancelled, even if they were the ones extending the offer.) Even if I responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes, let’s go!” or “Yes, just pick a day and I’ll be there!” the appointment was at risk of actually occurring. If you’ve watched Aziz Ansari’s stand-up special on Netflix (and you should), you’ve seen this phenomenon explained in the simplest terms: “We’re all part of the rudest, flakiest group of people ever. If you’re alive right now and you have a phone, you’re a rude, shitty person.” You might think it’s an overstatement . . . until you read your text conversations from the last few times you tried to make plans with someone. You’ll see a string of maybes, finagling, rescheduling, and flakiness by both parties. “No one wants to commit to shit, because they’re terrified that something better is going to come along,” he observed.
Even with this assignment, my internal responses were no better. Why, when receiving an invitation to spend time with friends, was I already wishing I could get out of it? Yes, I am overscheduled, but guess whose damn fault that is? Mine. Amazing that we’re at a point when this needs to be said, but friends inviting you to do things should not be viewed as an impediment on your schedule. Not to mention the habitual exhaustion we seem to be facing as a generation. (As Aziz said, “Ohh, you’re tired? What, were you doing a bunch of manual labor? Were you building a Habitat for Humanity?”) But really, it’s a matter of knowing yourself. If, upon receiving an invitation, you already think there’s a possibility you will cancel, just say no.
Say “yes” to as much as possible, but make sure it means something. Don’t be the person whose “yes” means “maybe” or “depending on how I’m feeling that day” or “if something better doesn’t come up” or “sure, but it’ll probably be late.” Say “yes” and mean it. Say “yes,” and throw yourself into the experiences it brings. Say “yes,” and hold yourself accountable for the follow-through. Say “yes,” and figure out how to get it done. If that means being more selective about your “yes,” so be it. Because, in the wise words of Amy Poehler, “What else are we going to do? Say no? Say no to an opportunity that may be slightly out of our comfort zone? Quiet our voice because we are worried it’s not perfect? I believe great people do things before they are ready.”
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If there’s anything I’ve taken away from this week of yeses, first, it’s that I do have the time and energy to say yes to my friends more often. Second, we need to start holding each other accountable for our yeses. And most of all, I’m proud to be someone who most often and especially in her career, says “yes” without reservation. Saying “yes” has brought me nothing but great opportunities that I could have easily squandered by saying, “No, I’m not ready.”
When my boss found out about this assignment towards the end of the week, she said, “Really? I can’t imagine you saying anything else.” And ultimately, a little extra stress is worth it, because that’s the person I want to continue to be.
This article originally appeared on Levo and is reprinted with permission.