After being laid off from my second start-up and ending a three-year relationship in the first few months of 2016, I knew I had to seriously shake things up to feel like I was back on track with my life.
I found myself flooded with emotion; from sadness, self-pity, and regret, to anger that work and people I cared a lot about were being ripped away (or at least that’s how it felt). I had an overwhelming feeling that I had left too much unfinished or, as I somewhat dramatically tweeted that week: The feeling of leaving something important left unfinished without having the opportunity to complete it is haunting.
The birth of Yes Week
When I found out I would no longer be spending my hours pouring over projects that meant a lot to me, I dove into a two-week-long pity party of late-night drinking, junk-food eating, and lots of teary happy hours and phone calls with former co-workers, start-up folks, and, of course, my mom.
When the existential dread of not knowing what to do with my life when I foolishly thought I had it figured out in my late-20s set in, I found myself leaning heavily on my mom for advice. She has an incredible knack for not just solving problems, but for helping me see what I couldn’t. She was quick to point out that just because things didn’t go according to my precisely and at times, inflexibly laid-out plan, the world wasn’t ending. People around me loved and supported me and were proud of the place I had carved out for myself in this world.
On a rare, rainy Los Angeles morning about a month after my layoff, I called my mom and lamented about how lost and ungrounded I felt. She asked me something that sticks with me now and I come back to often “What could you do today that would make you happy?”
Making the most of the unknown
I had been so focused on What’s next? that I didn’t think about What now? While allowing myself to live in the unknown was undoubtedly good for my personal growth, I definitely needed a nudge to make the most of it.
After hanging up with my mom I opened my laptop, perused some emails from recruiters and made a decision that changed the trajectory of my path dramatically. In my inbox was an email telling me “Say yes to travel.” I have always enjoyed traveling and had found that it often eased my stress and anxiety better than just about anything. “Italy!” I thought. I looked up how much a last-minute trip to Europe would set back my already dwindling piggy bank. Not 20 minutes after my mom’s advice to focus on “now,” I called her back and told her I’d booked a one-way ticket to Rome for just a few weeks later.
As I sat back in awe of my somewhat impetuous plan to traipse around Italy without rhyme or reason, it dawned on me that it felt really great to throw my usually cautious, pros-and-cons list way of decision making straight out the window. I decided there had to be a way to incorporate this more into my life, and thus, Yes Week was born.
The power of saying yes
Yes Week was meant to be simple and without rules. I posted on Facebook to kick it off:
In an effort to be more open to the world, I’m spending the next week saying “yes” to as many things as possible. Yes to new experiences, to new friends, to challenges, to being helpful, to listening, to silence. If you have a suggestion, let me know.
My friends and family did not hold back in offering suggestions. The reactions and comments I received were overwhelmingly positive and presented me with a laundry list of adventures, goals, chores, meals, work, new friendships, and more.
The next day I got started on my list. I began by meeting with a new friend and giving her a tour of Downtown Los Angeles and taking her to some of my favorite local spots, something that made me appreciate the city I had been living in for six years, even more. I then went and got two spur-of-the-moment tattoos with a good friend: On my left forearm, glyphs for “transform and transcend.” Above my right elbow, I got an ampersand — a relic of a passion project I’d no longer be working on, but also a physical reminder to embrace all the “ands” in life, and that no one is limited to where they started or should be stalled by existing stereotypes and gender roles.
“Yes” to helping and including others
Throughout the week I said “yes” to many, many things. Some small, like helping a friend come up with the tagline for her new brand, and some that were much larger, and whose implications ended up changing my life. I said “yes” to adopting a rescue puppy, Piper. I flew my best friend from Ohio to LA to spend a week with me reconnecting, I visited my hometown and spent time with my family.
I said “yes” to my brother when he wanted to join my Europe trip, and “yes” to meeting him in Atlanta where we agreed to choose new destinations based on what flights were available for us to get on that day, leading us on an amazing adventure through Zurich, Amsterdam, and Prague that made us much closer and more connected.
I said “yes” when a good friend told me he had always wanted to go to New York Fashion Week, and said “yes” to buying us both flights there and surprising him for his birthday and, as a result, “yes” to running up my credit card debt (maybe don’t try this one at home). Our New York trip ended up making me fall hard for the city and I moved there less than a year later, easily the biggest impact of Yes Week. I took a short trip to see a favorite band from my childhood in Las Vegas, I visited my college town of Knoxville, Tennessee, to celebrate a friend’s recent accomplishments, and to relaxing with three women I’ve known for a decade who continue to inspire me.
How Yes Week changed me
At the end of the last day of Yes Week, I had just finished meeting with a former coworker and said “yes” to helping market the political boardgame he was Kickstarting, I sat alone quietly and reflected for the first time since being laid off almost two months earlier. I found myself reignited and invigorated by saying yes to things I normally wouldn’t have. While I have a tendency to do everything at 1000 percent, I have a habit of prioritizing my career over my personal and social life, so to have taken so much time to say yes to things I wouldn’t even have considered previously, I honestly felt like a new version of myself. I often heard about the power of saying “no,” but in my experience what I gained from saying yes (and at times, saying “yes” to saying “no”) was magnitudes above what I had ever learned saying “no.”
The magic of Yes Week was in giving myself permission to have fun, be silly, prioritize my happiness, and live without worry or indecision, something I frankly wasn’t great at. Yes Week permeated my life, and continues to affect how I make decisions today. I try each week, if not each day, to say yes to something that’s just for me. Whether that’s saying yes to doing nothing but hanging out with my roommate watching documentaries on Netflix all day Saturday, or saying yes to pushing myself to just make time for me and things that make me feel good.
Nicky Besuden is the director of marketing for Unstuck, where she relentlessly pursues her desire to learn and create positive impact. Prior to joining our team, she lived the tech startup life in Los Angeles for seven years as a marketer and product developer. Nicky’s advice to herself and you: Travel whenever you can.
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