Friday, September 20, 2013

Saying Yes

About three years ago, I was having a VERY busy few weekends.  This was right before the holidays and all the volunteer organizations I worked with were having fundraising or other events. I happened to mention jokingly on my Facebook page that in the current Sunday bulletin there were six different blurbs with myself as the contact person.  One of my sisters in law wrote this: "No.  That word is a complete sentence".  Mind you, this particular sister in law has an extremely challenging job that occasionally requires travel, is pursuing a fast track master's program and spends most of her weekends biking, entertaining or doing other busy things.

One one level, she was expressing conventional wisdom.  Keep control of your schedule, don't overextend yourself, don't get roped in. Go with the current flow of life. This is a common attitude and one that at times can be necessary, especially during those working years when multiple kids have multiple activities. I certainly remember having to tell my children the three activity at a time rule (one sport, one non sport, one church related), and having to choose which committees I had time to take on.

On another level, however, I think sometimes "no" becomes our first response. More importantly I think we lose out on a great deal of enjoyment and reward if we say "no" more than we say "yes". I am not just talking about outside commitments or responses to requests, but life in general. I say that as a person who is a nester when not traveling and who prefers to keep a laid back and low energy lifestyle  for a good part of each week.  Sometimes it's true, we have to say no due to scheduling or being overextended or other intervening factors. Just as often, in my experience, we say no out of fear, being too comfortable, or not wanting to step outside of our scheduled "box".  I would suggest that initially we might be better off saying yes-at least to ourselves-and THEN look to see if we have any real conflicts or interferences.  Perhaps the better response might be "Why not?".

Even though I was moving towards family, I hesitated to say "yes" to moving for a very long time.  This was true even as my family kept pressing me to join them. I had made friends and found a church, I had come to love the warm climate, I knew there would be costs. At the same time, knowing my family and having been visiting Denver three or four times per year, I knew that the end result would be just as good if not better than life in Dallas. I was simply unwilling to step outside of the current status quo, and eventually I had to ask myself what exactly I was waiting for.

I am also not a person who is comfortable with putting herself out there in the beginning (I am fine once I "know" everyone).  I have a young adult living with me who has even greater issues with comfort level and meeting new people. I have learned (as has he) that most of the time saying yes is more than worth it in the long run. Fortunately, there are times when I have said no to begin with and said yes later on-and been glad I had the sense and willingness to change my mind.

It's worth adding that we all have different personalities and our own limitations when it comes to saying yes, and that saying no does not always mean a lack of spontaneity (although in my experience most of the time the two go hand in hand). For example, no matter how spontaneous a person I am, I will never say yes to learning to ski, climbing a mountain or sky diving. Simple physical limitations come into play!

Still, retirement (and life in general) should, in my opinion be about saying yes whenever possible-to new experiences, new people and life in general. This is true even though (or perhaps because) some of those yes responses will eventually become nos.  I talked about this aspect once before when I wrote about trying new things.  My goal in life is to say yes to, and to try, as many new things as possible. I say that even as I know that for every ten new things, at least five will drop off the map.  I have a tin ear, and cannot read music, but I am not sorry that I at least tried to learn an instrument in adulthood. I speak fluent German due to immersion, but have learned that when it comes to languages in general I need to stick to tourist phraseology and rely on the kindness of strangers. On the other hand, I took up quilting in middle age, as well as sewing, traveling alone, and many other things. Road tripping alone was a huge step for me in the beginning, but the rewards have been as huge. It would have been easy to say "I have to give up road-tripping now that I am alone". Instead I regularly say yes to hitting the road and have had wonderful experiences and even met wonderful people while doing so (even as I contemplate taking my first organized "tour" in memory).

After my recent move I have been trying to say yes on the "social level"  more, even though that has taken me out of my comfort level.  I've been asked to come to some events sight unseen, knowing that everyone else in the group were long time friends. I've been asked to teach some classes, even though I am not good at public speaking as such.  I've been asked to look at doing some new to me  kinds of travel and to document those experiences with photos and words. The list goes on. I've also said no to some of the things I have been doing and will share more about those experiences. In the end, I still like to cocoon much of the time when I am at home and not traveling, but saying yes has allowed me to widen my experiences. My comfort level has been challenged in the short run, but satisfied in the long run.

 It's probably worth mentioning that all the invitations above are the result of me first stepping outside the box and saying yes -by looking at organizations that I might join and where I might feel comfortable. In other words, in order to be asked to say yes, I need to step out and say it on my own first.

It's also worth saying that we all have different comfort levels. Personality has it's place in making our decisions. Although this blog is mainly about retirement, my son is a perfect example.  His social life in Dallas revolved around family and school and the twenties and thirties group in church. Because there is no church group here and he is an introvert in the extreme, he has become a homebody in the extreme when he is in school. In his heart he knows that if he found an organization or group or meet up he would be fine. It's both finding that group and stepping out that first few times.  For him, even going to a sports bar near the college and sitting at the bar and chatting with the nearest few people about the University of Texas or the Broncos is saying "yes" to him at this point in his life.

On the other hand, he has taken huge steps outside his comfort zone when it comes to schooling and is reaping rewards already. After being out of school and unemployed for four years, he has returned to school in a new state. That's requiring him both to repeat some  basic course (gotta take that US history with emphasis on Colorado even though you already took US history in Texas). It's also requiring him to delve into math at a different level with a goal of construction engineering in his future). On another level, he has started his own odd jobs business (as a side of my errand business), one which requires him to negotiate on his own and has allowed him to bring in some money, hire a part time on call helper, and add something to his resume (to deter employers who automatically eliminate the unemployed).

In my life, I've been know to interrupt a scheduled seven hour drive to Dallas at the last minute to drive through the Palo Dura Canyon (the second largest canyon in the US).  Could I have followed my schedule and fit this outing into another drive between the two cities?  Probably.  Did the two hour side trip mess up my daily schedule? You bet!! Was it worth the stop?  Absolutely.  And never will I have to say that I will visit that canyon someday, or that I"m sorry I have never seen it.  

When I first met my husband one of the little corner jazz clubs was in the worst areas of Denver (gentrification has since taken effect). Not only that, but the shows regularly started closer to midnight. Visiting this club was always an experience!  The first time he took me there, I could have demanded we leave.  Because I was willing to look past the obvious and check out the interior, I had many musical experiences not to be missed. 

Finally, this has been primarily about saying yes to ourselves. I would suggest (and I am sure this will be the topic of another blog) that we need to say yes to society as well. Just a thought.

We all have decide when we will say yes and no. Before we say no though, it's worth asking ourselves why, and what we are missing out on.  When was the last time you said yes? 


  1. Wow, great post! I've always thought that "yes" was my favorite word in the whole English language.

    1. At least once the ankle biters grow to a reasonable age, lol. For a certain period of time there my favorite parental phrase was just the opposite. Other than that, I am a yes person!

  2. Barb, excellent post. It helps me greatly as I was one of those people who concentrated mostly on work and family in my pre-retirement years. Now that I am retired my tendency is to cocoon rather than get out there to find some opportunities to say yes to. But I am working on it and your post helps. Thanks.


    1. It takes time, especially if you are in a new area or all of your socialization was done through work. I now you will find your way.

  3. Absolutely, say yes! I like how you're settling into your new location by looking around for the possibilities.


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