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In nature, there needs to be a balance. Night and day, life and death, work and playharmony between any seemingly opposing forces keeps our external and internal ecosystems in check. There is no way around it. If we only work and never rest, sooner or later, burnout will force us to stop. And we can all agree that there is no escaping the laws of nature.

Life is a delicate, intricate dance. Events, opportunities, and relationships swing hand in hand to the music of our decisions. Here’s where a simple yes and no come into play. Anytime we say yes to something, we also say no to something else. Conversely, whenever we choose a no, we make space for a yes elsewhere. Each step in this waltz matters.

Yes and no complement each other like yin and yang. In ancient Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin and yang is central to understanding the nature of our existence. Symbolized by a circle divided into two halves—one dark (yin) and one light (yang), each containing a dot of the other―the energies oppose, yet complete each other. These interdependent forces are in constant flux and interplay, underlying all aspects of reality. Much like yes and no.

One cannot exist without the other. While yes is an affirmation, no is a negotiation. It takes a great deal of wisdom to know which one to choose and when. There are certainly indisputable benefits to saying no. Refusing to do something helps us establish personal boundaries and focus our time and energy on what matters most to us. It helps us disconnect in a healthy way to prioritize our well-being. In the chaos of life, a simple no can be our saving grace. Still, it’s a yes that opens the door of possibility.

There’s a well-known Cherokee legend about two wolves. In the story, as a metaphor for inner conflict, a grandfather describes to his grandson a battle between two wolves within one’s self. When the grandson asks which wolf emerges victorious, the grandfather answers, "The one you feed". When a no closes one door, a yes opens another. Both actions may be beneficial in different ways. So which one do we choose?

“What we fear of doing most is usually what we most need to do.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

In her TedTalk, American television producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes talks about her year of saying yes to everything. It’s hard to imagine that a titan behind hit TV shows like Grey's Anatomy or How to Get Away With Murder, who is responsible for 70 hours of TV across three or four shows in production at a time, would be afraid of something. And yet, no matter how efficient and brilliant at our job we are, at the end of the day, we are all human.

Shonda decided to say yes to whatever terrified her. “The very act of doing the thing that scared me undid the fear”, she says. And so, outside of her comfort zone, she dipped her toe in public speaking, acting, but also in letting go (more on that in a second). We can all imagine how much effort it takes to be at the top, especially in a competitive field like television production. But Shonda loves what she does, she loves ‘the hum’ in it―the rush of blood in her veins when a project is going well.

“When I am hard at work, when I am deep in it, there is no other feeling," she says. “The hum is more than writing. The hum is action and activity. The hum is a drug. The hum is music. The hum is light and air. The hum is God's whisper in my ear. And when you have a hum like that, you can't help but strive for greatness. That feeling, you can't help but strive for greatness at any cost. That's called the hum. Or, maybe it's called being a workaholic”, she adds.

But when the hum stops, what then? “If you love what you do―being a teacher, being a banker, being a mother, being a painter, being Bill Gates―if you simply love another person and that gives you the hum, if you know the hum, you know what the hum feels like―when the hum stops, who are you? What are you? What am I? Am I still a titan? If the song of my heart ceases to play, can I survive in the silence?”

One day, when Shonda was about to leave the house for another professional engagement her small daughter asked her to play. She nearly said no, of course, she was already late, you see. But then she remembered her promise to herself―to say yes to everything. So that’s exactly what she did. And slowly, among crayons and other playful devices, in the stillness of the present moment, she started getting her hum back.

Sometimes choosing the opposite of what we think is necessary may help us awaken old passions, inner genius, the hum. A leap of faith might reconfigure our settings and snap us out of a rut. Besides, saying yes to play does not mean saying no to work. It’s simply taking a break to reconnect with yourself. What’s more, a yes is hardly ever definite. More often than not, we can turn around, go back on our decision, and choose a no instead. Any yes that is not finite―take it.

If you have nothing to lose, take that chance. Sometimes all you get is one shot. Maybe you spotted a beautiful girl on the train. Say yes. Talk to her before she leaves at the next station and you’ll never see her again. A new job opportunity opened up? Yes, apply, especially if your imposter syndrome tells you you’re not qualified. Get the job and learn on the go. A yes is a door out of your shell, it’s scary, but what if it pushes your reality to exceed your expectations?

Think of it this way: every successful person said yes to something at some point. Steve Jobs said yes to an idea, Oprah Winfrey said yes to a dream, and Ruth Baden Ginsber said yes to courage. Surround yourself with people whose minds and hearts are equally open, those who take an affirmative approach to life. When you’re in the right tribe, it’ll be easier for you to act on that business idea that’s been nagging you for weeks or the plot for that novel you want to write. Grow into your brave self and in turn, your yes will inevitably inspire others, too.

The power of yes is potent so wield it wisely. The tiniest yes might send a ripple effect across your journey further than you might expect. Then again, you must be reading this article precisely because you want to be positively surprised, correct? You came here for change and improvement. Say yes to life and life will respond with the same enthusiasm. Are you ready? Yes? Say it out loud. YES? Good.
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