I had a really inspired idea at the start of this academic year: say “yes” to stuff. All kinds of stuff. Fun stuff, hard stuff, interesting stuff, boring stuff; stuff I’ve done before and stuff I’ve never heard of; stuff that makes me uncomfortable, or stuff that makes me frustrated, and even some stuff that’s given a panic attack (or two!).
Every flavor of stuff, mashed together and shoved down the ol’ gullet. That was my plan. So I started my master’s degree, agreed to advise a club, volunteered to help out with the school musical, joined the teachers’ union executive council, and started dating a new dude.
But like a glutton at her first buffet, there’s been a lot more rejection than digestion. With the exception of the new dude, all of my yesses have been at least partially garbage moves. If I’m being honest, although my “year of yes” may have been declared back in August, it hardly lived through September; by October some of my yeses had started to fade into sort-ofs; by December, I had more maybes than yeahs. Now that it’s practically March I pretty much only have fuck nos left.
And it’s awesome.
I barged into my adult life with the privileges that propelled me there hidden under a superhero cape I didn’t deserve to wear. I was angry because I wasn’t immediately someone. Until my early twenties, everything in my life had been so cleanly, evenly, and immediately validated. I never had to explain or defend a single thing about myself to anyone because my world was small and I was really the only one in it. Even the decision to become a public educator was made out of some weird altruistic narcissism, along the lines of “I love justice and have been fighting for it my whole life* and I’m so GOOD at it so I should go help all these CHILDREN and fight for THEIR justice” or whatever other “white lady in her early 20s who decides to be a teacher” adage you’d like to tag on there.
During my furious early twenties, my rage grew from an inability to say no. I ended up getting a bachelor’s degree from my second-choice college even though I was accepted by my first because I couldn’t say no to a boy. I worked full time at Best Buy while trying to finish that bachelor’s degree at the second-choice school because I couldn’t say no to money. I drank too much and made an ass of myself far too many times throughout the whole process because I couldn’t say no to attention.
And every time I refused to say NO, I showed the world that people like me aren’t the “no” kind of people- whatever “people like me” might mean to the observer: maybe women, or tattooed kids, or anxious folks, or punk rock hippies. I don’t know. But I do know that I represent more than who I am, and saying YES YES YES, whether it’s because I think I should or feel I need to, gives the wrong message: it says “I have no limits, or at least I don’t know what they are.” At the start of this school year, I finally found my limits and it’s only because I shattered right through all of them and found myself so deeply, helplessly overwhelmed by all of the yessing I’d been doing.
As DJ Khaled would say: I played myself.
My motives were impure because I didn’t realize they were planted in the wrong soil, and it wasn’t until I attempted to claim this year as “mine” that this became so brilliantly, blindingly apparent. See, I thought that saying “yes” to things would change my world because I thought I had a world, but I don’t. I am part of one, and while my yesses might be scary or exhilarating or anything in between for me, the world I live in doesn’t need yessers. It needs noers. And knowers. People who say yes should do it because they are not just passionate, but also prepared. I think we’ve all seen what unbridled passion without any semblance of preparation looks like: a spray tanned gorilla throwing flaming bananas into a pit of kittens.
More important than teaching me my limits, spewing yesses like a drunk spews chunks of breakfast exposed me to circumstances in which “no” was the only answer. Particularly now, particularly here, many people need to say no.
A life full of yesses can certainly be a good one, but I’ve learned this year that I’m really not interested in a good life. I’m interested in a good world.
*I went to a Take Back the Night rally when I was six or so, and marched on Washington against the Iraq War in middle school. I was also in the Gay-Straight Alliance in high school, so yeah: I’m a fucking freedom fighter.