Learning How To Say Yes


My friend Forest put this photo on Facebook last December, with this caption:

It was a hot day in July. Navigating the lunchtime jumble of Fort Green, head clouded by city fumes and a muggy humidity of self-doubt, a good friend said the word I needed to hear.

So I went.

Later, I wrote myself this note. Not that I planned to forget again, but sometimes we all need a friend to remind us.

Forest is a photographer figuring out how to navigate the business, and deciding which gigs to take shapes his income, his portfolio, and his future. We were walking through Brooklyn trying to find a place to eat a late breakfast, and he mentioned he’d been invited on a trip to the Waddington Range, and he was mulling it over.

We talked about what might happen if he went, and I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was probably something like Lately, whenever I’m not sure about doing something, but it seems like a great opportunity, I say Yes. Especially if it seems insecure or kind of irresponsible.

Forest went on the Waddington trip, had a blast, came back and sold photos to a bunch of companies, and Alpinist magazine. He and I also talked that day about whether or not he should go to the Outdoor Retailer trade show, and he did, and when he was there he met quite a few people, one of whom asked if he’d make a trip to the Red River Gorge in October to shoot photos of some climbers. He wouldn’t for sure get paid anything, but he might get some good photos he could sell.

He said yes, and spent a week photographing big names like Daniel Woods and Ashima Shiarishi, and a couple months later, three full pages of Climbing’s Golden Piton Awards issue were Forest’s photos from that trip.

We have all sorts of reasons to play it safe. We tell ourselves we don’t have enough vacation time to do something, instead of talking to our boss about the idea of unpaid time off (which we can’t take anyway, because we have too many bills, right?). We stay home on a Saturday to clean the garage instead of going mountain biking with friends.  Of course the garage needs to be cleaned and we have to pay bills, but have you ever caught yourself saying no to an incredible opportunity and instead being boring? Because it was the safe choice, the responsible thing to do?

I had one of those opportunities pop up recently, and I dragged my feet about it for a few weeks, thinking, Man, it might be good to stay here and get caught up on a bunch of work, not spend more money, take it easy for a while. I mean, what if I get a billion e-mails and I’m not there to answer them and I don’t get everything done before I leave and I get behind and … Hey, where’s the guy who talked Forest into saying yes to all that stuff last year? So I had a nice chat with myself and tipped things from 60% Play It Safe/40% Say Yes, over to 51% Say Yes/49% Play It Safe, and now I gotta buy a plane ticket in the next few days.

The funny thing about that is that psychologists have proven that either way we decide, our “psychological immune system” will convince us that we made the right choice, and we’ll be equally happy whether we stay home to clean the garage or go mountain biking, whether we take that trip across the world or stay home and work.

But nobody ever says “remember that time I didn’t go to South America?” My friend Lee and I sometimes joke in the middle of a day of climbing, “you know, we could have stayed home, slept in and watched TV.”

Forest e-mailed me last fall and said Hey, I’m going to do a raft trip in the Grand Canyon next November, and the group has a couple open spots. Would you like to go?

My first three thoughts were:

1. Is it smart to take that much time off work (no)
2. Is the secure, safe thing to do here to say no and keep working, keep making money, and not spend more money I don’t have on a raft trip? (yes)
3. Yes.

I mean, I might as well say yes. My brain will eventually convince me it’s the right thing anyway, and I’ll probably get a nice iPhone photo or two out of it, right?


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20 replies on “Learning How To Say Yes”
  1. says: John

    I’m sitting here in Aspen, eating a burrito, getting ready to go climbing instead of putting in another 20 years at the factory because I said yes.
    Awesome post.

  2. says: Ryan

    Once again, I feel compelled to comment. This is, as always, spot on. I have boiled this down into a far less eloquent saying: “don’t be a bailer.” Weather looks shitty? Don’t bail. Too much other stuff came up? Don’t bail. I bet some of my best times came with the few friends that didn’t bail because of the weather or late start or whatever. I might have to add “say yes” to “don’t be a bailer.”

  3. says: Aaron F

    B, this story hit the head on the nail. I wish this world had more people in it that would say “yes”.

    My mother & step father can’t seem to understand why I’d want to fly halfway around the world to climb a mountain, bicycle across a foreign country, go hiking slot canyons, or just explore a foreign land. “Seems pretty dangerous, there’s a lot of great things to see right here in the USA”. It’s always “What if __________________ happens?!?!?!? You could get really hurt, why would you want to do that” (fill in the blank of the worst case scenario). I’ve never said it, but someday this will be the reply; “You know what? The most dangerous thing in life you could do is sit for 12 hours watching golf on TV on your day off, wondering why anyone would want to risk their life living. Then wonder why your body aches, and you need surgery for everything that’s breaking down in your body that you never use, and can’t loose weight”. Sounds like a death sentence to me.

    Glad to hear your going rafting in the Grand Canyon, sounds like a chance of a life time. Cheers to people to that choose to say “YES”.

  4. says: Jeremy

    I was just in the Grand Canyon. It’s incredibly cool. And so are you and your writing. Please keep it up

  5. says: Elle

    And if you need an extra push, science totally backs this up! Pursuing pleasurable experiences increases the hormone oxytocin in you system which decreases cortisol and makes you so glowingly happy and decreases your risk of disease! (As of you need proof to go white water rafting in the Grand Canyon- that is a no brainier!)

  6. says: Mike G.

    Sometimes you just have to commit. The opportunity is worth the risks. Sometimes you just got to quit your stable job and sand yes to spending 4 months on the road with all you mountaineering and backpacking gear being homeless….. oh wait.. I did that.

  7. says: tooTALLtim

    This post is pivotal for me; I said no to shitty bosses, and yes to Burning Man and more alpine climbing! Glad to spot your van in the Glacier Gorge parking lot the other day 😀 See you on the rocks!

  8. says: Steve B.

    This last year has been a self proclaimed yes year. So far it has worked out so well I’m thinking of making it a yes lifetime.
    It’s funny you mention the Grand Canyon, because that is how it all began. A friend offered a spot on the trip, leaving early December, which at the time sounded like of miserable, but for that reason, that much more of an adventure. I had not enough money, just gotten a new job, and was in school with the trip beginning the week before finals week.
    Certain things go against all logic and saying yes is the most liberating and beautiful thing one can do, for one because you find so much more than you would playing it safe. I got the time off (learned my job was awesome and wanted their employees to love their lives), I saved money by cutting out things that needed to be cut out anyway, i.e. staying out late, and somehow managed to finish all of my school work two weeks early. If you say yes, beautiful things happen.
    Just last week, after arriving back from a two week climbing trip a person I had met only once asked if I cared to drive back to Moab to climb. I said yes, even though I really had no money left at this point and really should of been doing a hundred other things. Two days later I stood upon Castleton tower thinking there is no place I would rather be.
    This post was too perfect for me. Apologies for the long response, but keep it up. You have found the magic that life can be. Keep spreading it!

  9. says: Chris

    I’ve read this article a few times now, and it rings so true to me. In fact, I said yes to a week-long trip to Bishop (when my brain and diminishing stockpile of paid-time-off were saying no) and had one of the best trips of my life. That isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this kind of “just say yes” mentality paying off, and it isn’t nearly the last. Thanks for the great advice and keep it up!

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