Thursday, November 21, 2013

A note about 'Yes'

Me and my friends just saying "yes" in Paris.
Did I ever tell you I lived in France?  Because I did.  For two years.  And while life there wasn't always easy (in fact sometimes it was just damned hard), I really did love living there.  France was a dream come true.

But recently someone asked me how to prepare for an upcoming move to Paris, which got me to thinking about my biggest culture shock of French life: the French love affair with the word "non".

Let me just stop you here for a second and say that I'm attempting to make this an inspirational post which, as far as it goes, inspiring people is what I do worst in life.  So bear with me.  There's a Tina Fey excerpt at the end of this spiel  worth reading, and you can feel free to laugh hysterically at my awkward pictures.  In fact, draw mustaches and devil horns on them.  Go wild.  You deserve it if you've read all the way to the end.

Now, I can be as negating as it gets.  I understand - nay, worship - the appeal of the word "no".  It's my go-to word for instant comfort and security.  See below for typical examples: 

Q: "Can I have this seat?"
A: "No."

Q: "Smile!  It's a beautiful day!"
A: "No."

Q:  "Do you plan on ever shaving your legs?"
A:  "No."

Despite this natural tendency to cling to the word no, as an American I realize I'm pre-programmed to feel compelled to say "yes" sometimes, for fear of the American guilt complex known as "being a dumb bore."

After all, Americans invented the cocktail and "Jersey Shore".  We have an exciting reputation for the novel and profound to live up to.

But the French take "no" to a level I never knew existed.  Something, as an American, I was not at all prepared for.  "Non" is the natural French response to everything - and I mean everything - that might be viewed as new or out of the ordinary or simply just a slight inconvenience.  And it was hard for me as an impressionable girl in her mid-20s to not take all those nons a bit personally.

I learned from living in Paris especially that life is much more exciting when embraced with the word "yes", contrary to French (and especially Parisian) opinion.  The French have a good lot going for them, but embracing harmony isn't one of those things.  Funny how it took me moving halfway across the world to tap into this American fondness for spontaneity and agreeableness.

Many times I have regretted saying the word no.  No sets me up for a life of monotony.  I say no to keep things at status quo.  But I'll let you in on a little secret: the status quo is boring, lonely, and barren.  The status quo is where cowards go to hide.  And I'm guilty as charged.

By saying yes, I've opened myself up to making new friends.  To staying out until 3 am in the streets of Amsterdam.  To working on my career.  To witnessing a moment in history that will never repeat itself.

I've never regretted saying yes.  Life becomes instantaneously more exciting when I open myself up to its myriad of possibilities.

Even when put in uncomfortable situations, "yes" leads to lessons learned.  Memories made.  Dreams followed.

There's no getting back missed opportunities due to a knee-jerk "no".  And I'm trying hard to refuse to be the person who has her mind so made up about life that she's put the kibash on something before ever even trying it out first.

So here's to "yes" - the most beautiful word in the English dictionary, followed closely by the word "rum".

My wish is that you may all live to be the person who embraces yes your whole life long.  I say these names in the name of fun, adventure, an eternally open mind, and a life well-lived.  Amen.

And now, for the Tina Fey segment I promised you, from her book Bossypants (which deserves the Pulitzer, in my opinion) and retrieved from this article:

" [In 1997], I moved from Chicago to New York to work at "Saturday Night Live." I packed up and was going through my things to see what I would take with me and what I'd leave behind. I found an orange folder -- a regular school folder -- in a bookshelf. As soon as I saw it, I knew what it was. There were quotes written all over the front of it. Some of them were: 

"Greet everything with 'Yes, and....'"

"Make statements instead of putting the burden on others with questions." 

"Stay in the present, as opposed to focusing on the past or future." 

"The fun is always on the other side of a yes."

...These quotes were some of the rules of improv.

 When I found the folder, I realized that taking that class had completely changed my life. It certainly sent me down a career path that I never would have ended up on otherwise...All those rules and exercises defined us and our outlook on the world.

The things I learned in that class became part of the way I live my life. A couple of times I've been called on to do things -- jobs or whatever -- where I've felt, maybe I'm not quite ready. Maybe it's a little early for this to happen to me. But the rules are so ingrained. 

"Say yes, and you'll figure it out afterward" has helped me to be more adventurous. It has definitely helped me be less afraid. 

"We're offering you a job here at 'Saturday Night Live' -- can you move here within a week?"

"Ummm, yes I can."

"You know, you haven't been here that long, but do you want to move up and try to be one of the head writers?"

Feeling completely terrified inside, but saying, "Uhhh, yes, okay, yes, for sure."

"Do you wanna do 'Weekend Update' with Jimmy?"

Petrified. "Yes, thank you, of course!"

There are limits of reason to this idea of saying yes to everything, but when I meet someone whose first instinct is "No, how can we do that? That doesn't seem possible," I'm always kind of taken aback.

Almost anyone would say, "It's Friday at two in the morning. We don't have an opening political sketch. We can't do it." Yeah, of course you can. There's no choice. And even if you abandon one idea for another one, saying yes allows you to move forward."

And now, for a random picture of me embracing my inner "yes":
Photo courtesy of Delbarr Moradi Photography
Happy Thursday!