Say Yes, and Sometimes No

I’m what I like to call a “realistic optimist“.

I’m not a pessimist, but I’m not naturally very optimistic. It’s something I’ve always struggled with- seeing the negatives before seeing the positives. Usually I can talk myself into a positive perspective, but it takes time and effort, and usually leaves some lingering negativity in the background. At my very core I’m a realistic person. I like facts and statistics, first-hand accounts and corroborated stories. And most of all, I love having a plan.

Because of this, I have trouble just saying “yes”. 

I have trouble believing in myself enough to throw myself into the unknown, going somewhere without a plan, or allowing myself to not only seek out opportunity, but allow it to come to me organically. Just saying “yes” carries a lot of weight and implications, which can seem scary and overwhelming, making me retreat back into feelings of incapability and fear.

Teaching, however, has changed this.

Opportunities to sub or teach are usually last minute decisions- say yes, or someone else will. And if you’re like me, you want to teach as much as you can. You have to become an opportunist if you want to get your name out there, gather a community of students and teachers, and have your voice be heard. It forces you to become more comfortable with just saying “yes”.

Yes, I want to teach that class.

Yes, I can sub for you.

Yes, I want to lead that event.

Yes, I would love to assist.

Yes is the way to get from where you are now, to where you want to be. Yes, it requires you to be mindful of your time and energy balances, but it also pushes you into new opportunities everywhere you turn. Soon, everything seems like an opportunity- every workshop, every class, every event. It’s a chance to meet new people, learn a new skill, or deepen your practice. It can even be boiled down to a single practice on your mat: if you just say yes, maybe you will get that arm balance, or that handstand. But if you go in with the mindset of “no”, you definitely won’t.

The first time I pushed myself to say yes was when I was offered the opportunity of teacher training. It’s the first big decision I’ve made that’s “off track” for the average high school student, even an ambitious one. I’ve always said “yes” to things that didn’t really seem like a question: yes, I’ll take that AP class, yes, I’ll study for that test. But this was the first time the question was real, the first time I could say yes or no, and it would drastically change my life and entire being.

In a choice that impresses me to this day, I did it. And I would never take it back.

It was a commitment, of course. 200 hours is a lot of time. But it cracked me open- it made me open to new opportunities that had always been around me but just out of sight. Suddenly, I was learning the art of assisting, I was helping lead workshops, I was teaching yoga in the park for lululemon and working with girls at ivivva. All because I made the choice to say “yes” and kept saying “yes”.

Before teacher training, I would never have been able to handle, mentally, subbing last minute, or scheduling workshops months in advance. I would be afraid of committing my time and spreading myself too thin, or pushing aside preconceptions of what my day should look like and changing my plans. Now, I know what I’m capable of, and believe in my abilities. Learning to say yes changed my life, and has opened up more doors than I could have ever imagined.

Just as important as it is to say “yes”, is the skill of saying “no”.

When I first found the liberation and abundance in accepting opportunities as they arose, I got a bit carried away. I said yes to everything- every class, every get together, every friendship. Slowly, though, I began to see how dangerous this could be. Teaching every class on the schedule isn’t possible, energetically healthy, or generous to others. It’s hoarding. Saying yes to social opportunities is a great way to strengthen friendships and keep work in balance, but sometimes I just need to be alone. Accepting everyone as your friend is a beautiful way to cultivate sangha and embrace unity, but some friendships are toxic and not beneficial at all.

I learned to balance my yes’s and no’s over time, because everything takes time. It’s a difficult balance to learn, one that takes a lot of experimentation and effort to find. But once I found the equal power in “no” as in “yes”, I found a new sense of strength and control in my life.

“No” is a complete sentence.

You don’t have to apologize for saying no, for turning down an extra class or choosing to take a weekend off instead of taking on another commitment. It’s important to push yourself in your career, education, and growth, but it’s also important to embrace rest and rejuvenation. Muscles don’t grow as you break them down with exercise, they grow when you give them time to rest and rebuild after. Drilling yourself into the ground with too many commitments is just as detrimental as avoiding saying “yes”, and it is a perfectly valid reason to say “no” if you simply need to.

No, I can’t teach that class today.

No, I can’t assist that workshop.

No, that date/time/event won’t work for me.

…because I’ve worked every day this week and need a break. Or, because I want to spend time with my family. Or, because I have another commitment that is important to me (even if it’s scheduled time to unwind and reground).

  

It’s your life. You need to take ownership of it and where it goes. That means pushing yourself by saying “yes”, and nourishing yourself by saying “no”. The choice won’t always be clear, and sometimes you’ll have to take a leap of faith. But the more your explore who you are and what you’re capable of, the easier the decision will be.

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