In the last six months I have found myself saying “yes” to requests or opportunities that I typically would have quickly said “no” to. Not “no” because I’m too busy, or “no” because the work would distract me from higher priority goals, but “no” because it’s something I felt uncomfortable doing.  Discomfort because I have no experience doing it (creating a website, volunteering to help with a political campaign) or because I know I’m not very good at it (extemporaneous speaking). It wasn’t easy saying yes. I had to talk myself into it. In the end my rationale was that I really needed to stretch myself and get out of my comfort zone in order to move my work and my life in the direction I wanted to go.

I didn’t give it much thought until last month when I was listening to Jane Pauley at Learning 2013, an annual conference put on by the MASIE Center. Jane shared her resolution for 2013:  Say yes more often. Along the way she decided to modify it a bit: Say yes to new things more often.

I had one of those moments—you know what I’m talking about—when the speaker says something so spot on related to your current situation that you suddenly get a clearer focus. I realized that as a person in my mid-fifties, it is not surprising that I’m in a comfortable groove.  There are things that I do well, that I’ve mastered, that I enjoy doing. Why not just stay on that track?  I know the answer: because I’ll be missing experiences that will stimulate learning and growth, and that groove will eventually become a rut. Still it is not always easy to jump into something you know little about or to engage in activities that go against your grain.

What makes it easier to say yes to new things (whether you are fifty or twenty or seventy)? Here’s what I gleaned from my own recent experience and from what Jane Pauley shared:

  • Make “yes” your automatic first response. If you are bold, “yes” could be your first public response. But at least make it your first private response and then ask yourself if there is any reason you shouldn’t say yes (rather than starting with “no” and not giving it another thought).
  • Imagine how the new experience will help you reach goals. What could you achieve if you broadened your experiences? How could your life be more meaningful if you applied your energies in a new venue?
  • Do it with others.  Having companions on the learning journey makes it easier for two reasons.  First, there’s simply the support and encouragement people can give one another. But there’s also the sharing of knowledge and insights as different people bring different perspectives to the task.
  • Say yes to things that will both draw on your strengths and stretch you in new ways.  Being able to use existing skills will make you feel productive, which in turn can provide the energy and confidence to move into untested waters.

So have you surprised yourself by saying “yes” to a new experience or challenge? What made it easy for you to say yes?  And what did you learn from the experience?

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