Contrary to most people, I’ve never had a problem saying no.
No to letting my desk neighbor borrow a pencil. No to just taking "one sip" of a drink I didn’t want. No to a decent job offer because it didn’t feel right for me. No to hanging out late. No, no, no. Saying no to everything just felt natural, and the two letters slid off my tongue so well that eventually people stopped asking me to do things, confident in what they already knew my answer would be.
My thought process was simple: If something wasn’t within my comfort zone, avoid it.
Truth is, for much of my adult life I’ve been shackled by fear. I’ve been afraid to try new things, afraid to meet new people; afraid of doing anything that might lead to failure. This fear confined me to a narrow comfort zone. On the outside I might have looked like I was having the time of my life, but inside I felt both creatively and physically burnt out . . . and bored.
One of my favorite verses from the Bible has always been, "She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future," but I never actually laughed—or did anything without fearing what would happen next. So, on a whim, I decided to channel my inner Shonda Rhimes and start saying "yes." Postgrad life was finally my chance to bust out of my introverted shell and just live.
I decided that instead of saying "no" to things because I was afraid of them, I would "just say yes," just as long as it wasn’t illegal and didn’t violate my own moral code.
This one word segued into all kinds of new experiences where I found myself in a bar playing trivia late one night with new friends and sitting in the front row at SoulCycle—a nice change from my back row, corner spot. Of course this challenge has had both good and bad outcomes, ranging from fun memories to spreading myself too thin and making semi-costly mistakes at work, leading to the inevitable scoldings from my boss.
But surprisingly, it was just as easy for me to say yes as it was to say no. My heart had been trying to all along, but my head wasn’t allowing it. Except for one big exception.
Some people wondered how I could possibly move so far away from my family for a job. Wasn’t I afraid of being alone? Or living in such a fast-paced environment? What if my job didn’t work out? These questions and more were what I frequently got asked, and they almost activated the fear gene in me.
Then something in me said I wasn’t afraid and I just said yes. I said yes to a new adventure and hopped on the plane without a second thought. If I could do it then, why couldn’t I always do it?
Remember when we were 5 and the world was our oyster? We colored on the walls and snuck into the cookie jar, fearless and unconcerned with the fact that a time out was headed our way. We said yes to whatever we felt like doing, and then we became adults. Our dreams and sense of adventure faded away with our imaginary friends, and we got comfortable just existing.
Reality is, we all have dreams, but most of us make excuses for not pursuing them. Often these excuses aren’t overt. It’s more like a matter of inertia, of just ignoring the dreams, of maintaining the status quo. No keeps everything predictable. But you can break out of your comfort zone and get more out of life through the simple power of yes.
There’s no road map to postgrad life. It’s a complex, unlit path, and you only find the correct way to go by saying yes sometimes to what scares you.
Sure, comfort can breed a success story, but what’s a really good success story without some discomfort?
This article originally appeared on Levo and is reprinted with permission.