Lessons learned from “Yes Man”
All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
Based on my books in The Prolific Series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today’s clip comes from the conference scene in Yes Man:
A little willingness goes a long way. Karl vows to say yes to every offer, invitation, challenge and chance that comes his way. And his commitment to complete openness send him on a trajectory of adventure, abundance and yes, even amore. Karl discovers that the more he says yes to life, the more life gives back to him. Which may be a story we’ve seen million times before, but frankly, our cynical world could use a refresher. Because negativity is the easy way out. It’s a luxury item. Any asshole can be unhappy. It requires exactly zero calories. Optimism, on the other hand, actually requires work. It forces us to cultivate the art of observation. But the dividends are worthwhile. Saying yes and raising your hand and trying lots of new things is precisely what helps success find you. Because the process increases your field of vision, which allows you to better notice the opportunities that lead to success. Mindset may not affect the outcome, but it does affect the experience. Philippe, the greatest tightrope walker in history, wrote a daring book about this very philosophy. He said our job as artists is to explore mysterious desert islands of wonder. Because in chaos, all is possible. Every incoming idea is welcome, with no regard to reality. Forget time, money or reason, he says, embrace the brimming universe that sets your artistic crimes in motion. Are you living by the improvisational decree of saying yes to everything
People love people who give permission. Terrence may be a browbeating bullshit artist, but you have to appreciate the guru’s ability to give people permission. That, in my opinion, is the greatest gift we can offer. Permission, that invitation to reach deep down inside and express what is there, without reserve and without regret, is something every one of us craves. We just need someone to go first. The trick is, then, is that giving people permission isn’t some parlor trick we learn at public speaking school. It’s not a manipulative sales tactic we read in a book about persuasion. Permission is an act of embodiment. It’s not about the adjectives of our language, but the audacity of our lives. We inspire people to believe in themselves when we first throw ourselves boldly and joyfully into the life adventure, never looking over our shoulder to see who’s laughing. Velvet, for example, only sold ten thousand copies of their debut album, but everyone who bought it went out and formed their own band. That’s permission. I remember when first sent out the press release about my concert documentary, an artist friend of mine told me that each time she saw something of mine, she put more things on her creative bucket list. Mission accomplished. That’s impact. That’s exactly the kind of response I want. And it can’t be accomplished by playing covers. Because that wouldn’t be creating something personal. Forging other people’s art doesn’t involve undergoing the emotional labor of taking a risk and extending yourself. Whom are you giving permission?
No is the gateway to yes. Realistically, we can’t say yes to everything. Boundaries have to be drawn. The guru even admits that the goal isn’t to say yes to everything, but to open our minds to other possibilities without permanently taking away our ability to say no if we needed to. Life isn’t a romantic comedy. We are entitled to have our own best interests at heart. And so, there could just as easily be a sequel to this movie about the opposite of yes. About the power of saying no to the stories that do not serve our own evolution. That’s what reinvention is all about. Saying no to an outdated version of ourselves. Saying no to the labels and histories and stories we thought made up who we are. Saying no to stupid behaviors we continue to do because we think they’re somehow associated with the good things that have happened to us. Altucher wrote a powerful book on this very topic, saying that every time you hurt yourself, there was a no you did not respect. That’s the nature of boundaries. If we don’t set them for ourselves, other people will set them for us, and then they will violate them. And it will be our fault because we didn’t set a precedent. Ultimately, saying yes is the still the path to abundance and adventure. It’s still the optimal response to life. But we can never forget, we are defined by what we declined. Only by saying no to the good can we make room to say yes to the best. Are you able to hold a courageous conversation to reinforce your boundaries?
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