Becoming a Yes

I’m getting there!

Danni Michaeli, MD
Change Becomes You
6 min readOct 24, 2023

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Photo by Philippe Yuan on Unsplash

My brother-in-law is a remarkable person. He’s taller than me, thinner, smarter, more accomplished. He’s a self-made man, has conviction, is a good person, ambitious, a leader, good with his hands as well as his brain, can fix things, doesn’t procrastinate, can really get things done when he sets his mind to it. Sometimes he’s crass and bossy to the point of rudeness, so no, he’s not perfect at all, but he’s admirable nevertheless.

I’ve spent time thinking about how he can be so darned good, and I’ve come up with one major answer:

He’s a YES.

He’s a yes. He goes out of his way to say yes to new possibilities and opportunities. If he thinks about something he’s interested in pursuing, learning, mastering, trying, he goes for it. If someone invites him for something which inspires his imagination, he’s likely to look into it and figure out how to incorporate it into his life. Sounds straightforward, right?

“No” is such an easy thing to say. We have so many reasons to say no. We’re tired, overextended, overstimulated, cynical, skeptical, wary, interested in other stuff, or outright afraid of lots and lots of things. We easily talk ourselves out of most new possibilities for a bevy of real, perceived and fake reasons. Our laziness and fear are very powerful forces which hold us back from change, and because those inner voices are skilled and convincing, it’s hard to ignore them.

Honestly, we’ve been raised to say no. We’ve learned that “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” and “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” Fundamentally, there’s also plenty of research showing that humans don’t like to make choices; we’ll stick with what we have even when presented with irrefutable evidence that something else is more valuable. That’s why incumbents always have an advantage in elections; they can bank on our aversion to choosing.

This isn’t a flaw in our programming. This proclivity to say NO has been adaptive in the history of humanity, keeping us in line and away from danger during ignorant and dangerous periods in our history (which was basically our entire history.) We didn’t have rights, or safety regulations. We didn’t have information technology. We didn’t have computers doing massive amounts of calculations advancing scientific breakthroughs at a rapid pace. We didn’t have airbags and helmets and building codes and antibiotics and sterile surgical fields. This is all new, everything.

On the one hand, we’re safer than ever. On the other hand, we’ve also come to fetishize safety. When this involves our kids, we’re even doubly so. On the one hand we tell them they can be anything they want, and that we want them to be empowered, to be go-getters. But we want them to be safe. Safety first. Don’t talk to strangers. How can kids learn to be go-getters if they’re taught stranger danger?

And that’s just the Fear part. What about the influence of Laziness? Anyone who tells you Laziness is a myth is a liar. Laziness is real, it lives in the spirit of all human beings and is exerting its influence over you right now.

“It’s not worth it” or “why bother” are a couple of Laziness’ favorite phrases. Because the things that are really not worth bothering about don’t even register in our conscious awareness. If we’re thinking “it’s not worth it”, we’re already debating with Laziness.

Sometimes Fear impersonates Laziness. But when I don’t feel like putting away my clothes at night or brushing my teeth, I’m not afraid of anything, I’m just being Lazy. Even if I’m dead tired, I’m just being Lazy, because let me tell you, I’ve done plenty of things while dead tired. I worked many 30 hour shifts in my career and then went out partying for 30 hours more.

I can be tired and Lazy at the same time, but more often I’m wide awake and Lazy. Like Fear, Laziness serves an important role in the human psyche, allowing us to rest and enjoy the moment, but it can also be overindulged in a disorganized way. And disorganized Laziness that’s flopping all over our lives makes us feel like shit.

We live in a world of enormous possibilities. And the idea of having it all is a fetish of its own in our contemporary world. It’s the American Dream. There’s a movement to oppose this cultural phenomenon, to accept oneself, but it’s not likely to stop the multitudes of the industrious who really do want to have it all. And should it?

Humans are driven to create new stuff for ourselves. I live so much better than my ancestors because my ancestors strove for more. And frankly, I’m so curious about what we’re going to achieve, I’m desperate for the future to arrive before I die. I’m not ready to accept what is just yet. Maybe one day that will make sense to me.

I didn’t grow up with an understanding about this. I was shy, chubby and my self-esteem was pretty low. But I wouldn’t say that my self-esteem was the problem. The problem was my identity. I certainly didn’t have the identity of a capable person, but what was probably holding me back more was I didn’t even appreciate the power of identity.

You can’t be something unless you say you’re something. Otherwise, you’re just pretending, and that never lasts. I wanted to be strong and outgoing and confident and successful, but I didn’t know that in order to be all those things, I had to be courageous enough to say so, and then I had to make a series of choices to slowly become all those things. Slowly, and with lots of fits and starts, and with failures and embarrassment.

Sure, some people are born outgoing and strong and confident, but even they have to live into their fortunate heritage by making choices to build themselves up. It doesn’t matter whether you’re born a gifted ball player if you never pick up a ball, and even the most gifted ball player will never make it to the major leagues without practice.

I said it at the beginning. My brother in law doesn’t say “yes”. He is a Yes. That’s his Identity.

In a way, I’m lucky. My parents didn’t obsess about safety when I was a kid. I got a disapproving lecture from time to time based on the cultural and generational differences between us, but being entrepreneurs and historical freedom fighters, their culture promoted risk-taking.

Being Gay didn’t help me, because there was no acceptance of it back then. I’m sure it’s still a barrier, as all secrets are. Secrets build fearful beliefs. But if I’m going to be honest with myself, a lot of my fears were independent of all these barriers; they were and continue to be of my own creation.

To live into my best life, I have to take risks.

I also have to brush my teeth at night and hang up my clothes and answer phone calls and pay my bills on time. And once I finish with all that, I have to do more.

I’ve learned that when opportunity comes to my door, I have to answer with “YES”.

This year my friend asked me to do a Triathlon with him, my first one. “Olympic distance.” It sounds very grand (and very intimidating). I said yes, and I can already feel all the subtle impacts this is having, not just on my well-being, but on my Identity.

I’m becoming a Yes later in life. I have regrets about this. But more than anything, I’m grateful for it.

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Danni Michaeli, MD
Change Becomes You

A psychiatrist and a dreamer, I'm always listening for the magic and wondering what we're all doing here.....