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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

I Said Yes to Everything for a Year and Here's What Happened

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Shonda Rhimes, media titan and all-around impressive human being, recently gave a TED Talk on how she said yes to everything for a year. Yes, you can add giving TED Talks to the list of accomplishments, under being the writer and executive producer behind shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal.

It’s an awesome talk and I highly recommend watching it (even if you save it for later).

The funny thing is that I also conducted a similar experiment this past year. Does that make us twins?

I’d started a new job, but was feeling a bit lost. Engaging in what I declared internally to be a big act of self-love, I decided to embrace everything that I wanted or needed for the next year (within reason, of course). If I had the time and the financial capability to do something, I would just say yes and figure the details out later.

My experiment included a broad range of new experiences that I hesitated to say yes to previously—from public speaking opportunities, to networking events, to professional development courses, to taking an art class, to just hiking a new trail.

I have no regrets—I was intent on seeing my “Year of Yes”—as Rhimes calls it—through in hopes of gaining some clarity, and boy, did I ever.

The Adrenaline Rush Is Stronger Than the Discomfort

At first, saying yes to everything that was asked of or offered to me was uncomfortable. At times, it was even scary. I’d spent most of my life carefully analyzing (and overanalyzing) the choices I made, even those that may seem simple in nature.

Giving up that control was a new experience for me, but the adrenaline rush I felt when I stepped outside my comfort zone somehow told me that I was on the right path. It taught me the value of being vulnerable and remaining open-minded.

Bonus? Stripping away the complexity of decision-making made life less stressful and freed up more of my time to focus on more important things, and many more opportunities found me as a result.

Doing Is Different Than Dreaming

In the past, I had a tendency to romanticize ideas I had for my future and my career. The problem was, so many of those ideas never came to fruition because I never put any actual effort into the dreams I was so busy weaving.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that taking even the smallest chances had a domino-like effect in my life, and especially my career, in a very positive way. For example, I’d always dreamed of being a writer, but wasn’t sure where to begin. I decided to start small with blogging, and began submitting my pieces to different online outlets.

Not only did I gain more confidence in myself and my writing, but I also landed a coveted spot on the board of an arts nonprofit that I wanted to work with.

Failure Isn’t That Big of a Deal

Another reason I preferred dreaming to doing was the dreaded F word—failure.

But in this experiment, I had to face the monster I’d been trying to avoid: What if I tried and failed miserably?

I realized that I could keep myself in a box, but I would fail either way: If I didn’t do it, I would be letting myself down and not allowing myself to grow.

Plus, I came to appreciate how every failure helped me to better navigate future situations. For instance, I once campaigned to be a project lead at a former employer. I spent hours researching and laying out my proposal, and when I finally landed a meeting with the director who was spearheading the project, I was sure I would be a shoo-in.

After I excitedly gave my presentation, the director asked me about our competitor and their product, and I drew a blank. I had such tunnel vision about our product and how excited I was that I overlooked a simple question I should’ve been able to easily answer. Needless to say, I did not land that project, but I did learn a valuable lesson that aided me in future prep.

I Had More Strengths Than I Thought

Previously, I had a fairly narrow view of what I was skilled at, and on the contrary what weren’t my strongest assets (for example, I would never, ever be an accountant).

However, I didn’t realize how narrow my view was, because I’d only chosen to participate in comfortable experiences. It was nothing short of eye-opening—and exhilarating—to discover the larger range of what I was really good at (and also humbling to know there wasn’t a cap on being extremely terrible at other things). As someone who considers herself the definition of an introvert, I impressed myself as I confidently navigated networking events and informational interviews.

Realizing I wasn’t actually as shy as I thought gave me the courage to try public speaking, and dare I say, I’m pretty darn good at giving presentations. This skill has become especially useful in my day-to-day work, and helped to better showcase my strengths to senior management.

I didn’t end up loving everything I agreed to try, but I found many things that I did. And even better, I crossed paths with many people I never would’ve met otherwise. Saying yes led me to discover important lessons that ultimately made me more successful in my career—and happier overall.

Ready to say yes to new and exciting things yourself? How about taking one of these fun online classes, or reading one of these career-boosting books, or even just picking up one of these one-minute morning routines to start your days off right.