Google “the power of yes” and up pops three TEDx talks (all plainly titled “The Power of Yes”) alongside a HuffPost Life article that begins “Yes, has magic within it. So often we are afraid of life…” But what these positivity gurus are not saying is: it’s not a matter of success or failure, it’s that if you say yes a lot, you’re ceding control of where your life is going, for better or worse. Saying yes means you are willing to fall, arms outstretched, backwards into a crowd of people who are all asking you for something.
At the beginning of 2018, I decided to say yes to (almost) everything to jumpstart my career:
- I embarked on four new long-term collaborations with friends abroad.
- Participated in three multi-week design research consulting projects.
- Completed 11 short illustration/graphic/web design projects.
- Joined three creative organizations in Hong Kong.
- Traveled to the US twice for conferences (spoke at one of them).
- Wrote two articles for publications I deeply respect and a second emoji proposal.
- Tried some things for the first time: tabled at an art book fair, participated in a hackathon, led a digital safety training, got paid to make an animation and illustrated an office wall.
As this list shows, my career is indeed significantly fuller than it was at the beginning of the year. I am happy with the opportunities that The Power of Yes has bestowed on me, particularly where it allowed me to override a few of my unhealthy but deeply held instincts. Yet it hasn’t been an easy ride – there have been awkward moments, low-to-no pay gigs, and one project so painful I dearly wish I’d said no (I’ve dedicated an entire issue of my newsletter to it).
Aside from hit-or-miss opportunities, The Power of Yes comes with a powerful set of side effects. In saying yes, I lose the ability to focus – I’m continually distracted by opporunities big or small. In saying yes, I take on too much – I accept opportunities without taking stock of my current capacity. In saying yes, I become a reactive, not proactive, person – projects that I have or would have initiated have languished this year.
For me, this final side effect stings the most as I’m looking back on my year. I dedicated almost no time to learning, I didn’t continue this well-received inclusive illustration article series, and I’ve been dragging my feet on taking my community-building project of 2018 to the next level (even though people have been showing up for it). These are all signs that while I don’t regret saying yes in 2018, I’ll be doing a lot less of it in 2019 to (re)focus on other areas of my life.
So, dear reader, if you decide to accept The Power of Yes in the coming year, a world of opportunities may open itself up to you. But in return, you must surrender your free will, and maybe endure the most painful project in recent memory – such its curse, its powerless underbelly. Saying yes is both a blessing and a curse. Be careful of what you wish for.
Happy New Year.