I recently heard an artist remark that her default answer is always “no.” Her simple point reconfigured the meaning of yes and no for me:
If you want me to say yes, she explained, you’ll need to convince me that it’s worthy of my time and energy. Anything I say yes to I say yes with the full-hearted awareness that it will feed my ability to offer the world what only I can offer. Otherwise, I’ll go back to my default, which is no.
Some might see this as selfish. But I think of it this way:
A researcher is developing a cure for a previously incurable disease. It is a formula only she has. And a coworker comes into the lab and says, “I’m going to a party that a friend is throwing where she’s selling all these wonderful organic skin products. I think you should come, too.” And the researcher, not wanting to hurt her coworkers feelings — and thinking that there’s nothing implicitly wrong with organic skin care — says, “Um. Okay. I guess this work can wait.” And so she switches off the lights, and gives one last guilty glance over her shoulder at her life-saving work before shutting the door and leaving for a party she didn’t know existed five minutes before.
Crazy, right? You want to step on front of her and bar her from leaving. But this is what we all do when our default answer is yes. Every one of us has some medicine that this world is waiting for. People are suffering. Longing. Waiting for our medicine. Our words. Our images. Our work.
And we are switching off the lights in our labs and guiltily traipsing off to parties we couldn’t care less about for fear we’ll be perceived as selfish, when the real selfishness is making people wait for the medicine for which only we have the formula.
Now this is not to say that our fictional researcher should never stop working. It’s not to say that she doesn’t deserve rest, or comfort, or fun, or delight. She is worthy of all this things — as are we! But those should be things that feed us and strengthen us and energize us for the deeply important work ahead. Work that the world is waiting for. And this kind of yes, the yes that is spoken with a full heart, is a true and powerful yes. A yes we can depend upon when our default is no.