I watched a small girl run around at the farmers market this weekend. She looked expectantly at her mom as she reached for a strawberry. “No, don’t touch.” The little girl moved on.
I saw her again a while later. At the edge of the park where the booths are set up there is a water display where all the kids play. The water spurts out of holes in the ground, dancing to an unvoiced tune that only kids seem to hear. They jump here and there, trying to avoid the spray of water that invariably gets them wet every time. That same little girl looked expectantly at her mother once again. “Yes”, and with that she was off and running, giggling from the water display that took all of five seconds to drench her from head to toe.
Yes or no. Those two words are the first words we learn as we develop our language skills. We quickly learn that some things are okay while others are not. We learn that some things are acceptable while others will get us into trouble.
And as time goes by, we quickly learn there are a lot of shades of grey that go along with learning the difference between yes and no.
To a two year old, yes and no are pretty cut and dry. But the older you get, the more the concept changes.
When you’re five and you really, really want that toy your best friend has, you can ask your mom and she might say no. But she probably doesn’t mean it. So you ask again. And again. You beg at opportune times. And sometimes it works and you get what you really wanted in the first place.
So no didn’t mean no. If you asked in different ways and at different times, it sometimes meant yes.
Or did it? The five year old would tell you they wanted to hear yes, and tried many different ways before reaching the goal they knew would come true in the end. They didn’t take someone else’s “no” to equal their own desire of a “yes”. Instead they tried and tried until they got what they wanted in the first place. To them, the answer was always a yes; they just had to get others to agree.
You see, each of us has an internalized voice that tells us what we want and what we don’t want. We know what is right for us and more importantly, what is wrong. We know what we’ll accept and what we won’t. And if something gets in our way of arriving at the answer that is clearly already in our mind, we make up excuses to justify our behavior.
A few days ago, I was sitting by the river, watching three preteen boys stand on a cliff, waiting to jump into the cool water below. Two boys were standing with their bathing suits on, ready with anticipation. The third looked nervous with his shirt and shoes still in place. He pulled out his phone and dialed his mom. Soon after, he declared in a rather loud voice that it was okay for his friends to jump, but his mom forbade him from jumping into the river without her there. Trust me when I say his mind was made up long before he called his mom. Jumping was not in his immediate future. That step off the cliff was a little too high for him. His answer of no was firmly implanted in his mind; he simply used his mom as support for the decision … just to save face with his friends.
Because the older we get, the more concerned we become about what others will think of our “yes/no” decisions. We understand the right choices for ourselves; but we let others influence our decisions in various ways. We want to please those around us. We want to fit in with the people we call our friends. Of course we’ll say yes to the things that matter most to them … even when they differ from what we truly want to do.
And that’s where we get stuck. That’s how we don’t live lives to our truest potential. I know, I’ve been there many times.
- I’ve said yes to the wrong jobs.
- I’ve said no to great opportunities.
- I’ve said yes to the wrong people.
- I’ve said no to life-changing decisions.
But I’m learning; it’s never to late to learn.
In the last three years, I’ve improved my yes/no decision making process, and it’s begun to make all the difference.
- I said yes to selling a portion of my business when I realized I no longer was as passionate about it as I once was.
- I said yes to a life-changing trip to Europe.
- I said no to continuing to live in a house that didn’t allow me to live and travel the way I desired.
- I said no to living in a neighborhood that no longer brought me joy.
Yes, I’m learning. But that’s what life is all about.
Life is all about yes or no. You either do something or you don’t. It either is or it isn’t. It’s either yes or no. Choice is yours; it’s all up to you.
What’s it going to be?
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