Saying yes in a precious year at Stanford University

How being open to different ideas and experiences creates a world of new possibilities

Jim Colgan
Nov 22, 2019 · 4 min read
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JSK Fellows Jim Colgan and Matt Kiefer at Critical Mass in San Francisco, September 2019.

The email was clear.

“If we offer you a JSK Journalism Fellowship, we will need your answer at that time.” The directors of the fellowship were going to call us in a couple of days and they needed to know if we were going to say yes or no right there and then.

They called with the offer. I said yes. And here I am spending a year at Stanford exploring ways that live radio can be as innovative as podcasting.

I’ve spent most of my career as an audio producer at what I consider to be amazing places, like WNYC, SoundCloud, and Audible. But I’ve never had this kind of opportunity before. So I made one decision before starting this precious year: Keep saying yes to as much as you can.

I said yes to moving near campus, even though my partner and I lived a Caltrain commute away in San Francisco. Now we’re a bike ride away from campus and we can zip home to walk the dog.

I said yes to taking the train to San Francisco on a Friday evening after a long week to join fellows on one of the monthly Critical Mass bike rides. In my six years of living in SF, it was something I’d never done. In the end, it was just me and fellow JSK Fellow Matt Kiefer — and we didn’t even know each other that well. But we both still went and explored parts of the city I’d never seen. And now we know each other much better.

I said yes to making my business school Strategic Communications class presentation focus on how hard it is for journalists to be full human beings when we’re so concerned about the appearance of media bias. Before, it was just an argument I’d have over drinks. Then, it was a presentation with stories and slides.

I said yes when I was asked at the last minute to do an on-stage interview with NPR Silicon Valley reporter Aarti Shahani about her new memoir, “Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares.” I dove into the book and started prepping questions. I left the event with a bunch of new ideas on how to involve audiences in live conversations and thoughts about the power of telling our own stories.

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I said yes when the fellowship directors asked me to do my “backstory” a few weeks early. That’s a JSK event where we share with our fellows the personal narrative of who we are and how we got into journalism. I was scared to do it, but had been thinking about the power of our own stories and decided to jump in early. Now, I don’t have to be anxious about waiting for my turn.

I said yes to signing up for a week of early morning meditation sessions at a Stanford summit called Contemplation by Design to help with the anxiety I sometimes struggle with. I made myself get out of bed a whole lot earlier than usual and bike to the sessions. I had to laugh at the stress I had sweating and rushing each day just so I could attend an event about relaxation and mindfulness. But it’s helping me make stillness as important as being busy.

I also said yes when a radio guy I wanted to talk to invited me to dinner at his house in the Oakland Hills. On the two-hour drive in rush-hour traffic, I realized we could’ve just talked on the phone. But I’d rather say yes too much than not at all.

I said yes when someone at a friend’s birthday party insisted that I meet a person at Stanford who teaches storytelling to medical students. Now I’m trading ideas with the author and storyteller Laurel Braitman about things we can do together with live radio.

I said yes when classmates asked me if I wanted to join them in signing up for the final presentation for the Strategic Communications class — the one assignment we don’t actually have to do! Now we’re planning a group presentation on why and how to involve your audience in live conversations.

Whatever the self-help books might say, it’s impossible to say yes all the time when there are so many things you can commit to, especially in a place like Stanford. But there’s something to be said for jumping in with both feet to a fellowship like this. So as much as is possible, I’m trying to answer in the affirmative.

JSK Class of 2020

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