Saying Yes and Saying No: A Purpose-Guided Agenda

Saying YesIn further evidence that I’m a product of my era, I decided to read Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. For those of you downloading this blog post from your cave in the wilderness, Rhimes is the creator of some of network tv’s most popular shows, including Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal.  It also turns out that she wrote a pretty good guide to personal happiness in Year of Yes, with strong themes of purpose and authenticity. Somehow, I was surprised at the depth and quality of her advice, despite having written a past blog post on how Rhimes endorses authenticity in Scandal.

As the title suggests, the book recounts Rhimes’ experience spending a year saying “yes” to others. For her, a natural introvert, these yeses often take the form of agreeing to speaking engagements and public appearances. But relatively early in her experiment, Rhimes realizes that she has to prioritize her yeses. Essentially, she sometimes has to say no to something in order to say yes to the most important thing. For Rhimes, the most important yeses have to do with her daughters, and when she says them, she describes the feeling as:

There’s a hot pearl of joy in my chest that is warming me in a way I’d forgotten was possible. That little fire inside of me has been reignited. Like magic . . . Days like this, I am still alive.

Rhimes doesn’t characterize this choices in terms of saying any nos, but in fact that’s what she’s doing. She decides not to work at night or on weekends under most circumstances in favor of spending time with her girls, noting, “I’ve been guilty of working straight through far too many weekends in order to ‘get ahead.’ There’s no such thing. The work is always there in the morning.” Rhimes says no to work in order to say yes to family. (She also, which I appreciate, acknowledges this may not always be possible for everyone given their life circumstances.)

The message here is around deciding what parts of life are most important to you and focusing your time and energy on those. Say yes to the important stuff and no (or “I don’t”) to the rest. This is how you can let both purpose and authenticity guide your daily agenda.

I like Rhimes’ notion of saying yes more often, and have been trying something like that in my own life without explicitly laying it out as such. But making the space to say yes to no things has meant saying no to some things that used to fill my days. I changed jobs last year, and travel less. That means I can participate more in the daily rhythms of my company, my city, and my community, because a weekday evening is no longer likely to be spent on a runway at Newark. I said no to running the Boston Marathon again this year, in large part because I wanted the time spent training back to spend on volunteer work and personal growth. These nos weren’t easy, but they created opportunity for yeses.

So to Rhimes’ point, if you want to fill your days in a way that aligns with your purpose and is true to yourself, use your yeses and nos. Rhimes calls this true-to-self, mission-driven agenda-making “love,” noting: “We could all use a little more love. A lot more love . . . this is the best YES.”

What are you saying YES to this year?