The Power(lessness) of Yes

By Jason Li

2018 December 31

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:

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.

By Jason Li.

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