Saying Yes

When I moved to New York City, a friend who had been living there for some time told me that the key to enjoying New York is to say yes to things. “This is how you meet people,” she said. “This is how you learn how to do New York.”

The problem was that I was living in New York at a time in my life when it was a victory to do the simple things, like go for a walk, leave the apartment in the rain, or smile at someone in a coffee shop. It was a time when I didn’t want to be in my own company, much less impose it on someone else.

(For what it’s worth, I said yes to a few things and that was hard to do. But I was always, always glad that I’d done it.)

This was on my mind a week ago when a friend asked if I was interested in attending a party hosted by someone I have spent time with, though wouldn’t yet call a friend. I said yes because I knew that yes was the answer. And as I answered, I also knew that the real answer was NO in glowing red letters, and that the NO told me something interesting – but was wrong. I had no good reason to say no and much better reasons to say yes even if the gut instinct was no. So I said yes.

And in saying yes, I worked myself up to look forward to the opportunity. When the question later came up of whether I wanted to join my friends in spending the night camping in a converted VW bus beloved in my friend group, I also said yes. (It’s a good thing we’re having a heatwave.) It didn’t take long to grow excited about this, too.

There’s a lot to be said for listening to yourself, for listening to that little voice screaming NO. It knows some things. But this experience made me think about times when the right thing to do is to close the lid on the voice and let the rational part of the brain (Tversky and Kahneman’s logical system 2 rather than intuitive system 1) do the talking. Understanding the choice I made and why I made it while acknowledging what the little voice wanted me to know may sound like a contradiction, but is not. Rather, taking the time to listen to the gut response allowed me to quiet it down and put it to rest and then embrace the decision I had made.

I like trying new things and the only way to do that is to say yes when the opportunities arise. There are certainly times when a resounding no is appropriate, unquestioned, and the right answer. But there are also times when there’s no good reason for the no, and that means the no can become yes. In the end, at least I know I’ve tried and with all the possibilities life has to offer, I can’t do more than that.

And it’s true what they say – you don’t know until you try, and you have to say yes if you’re going to try.

Arco, Italy – April 2022

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