Working at the loose leaf tea shop my first year out of college was such a beautiful time of my life. It was a difficult time (because who likes floundering and admitting that you aren’t sure where life is headed?), but I look back on those days of Earl Grey and Mao Feng and Russian Caravan with a sweetness. We sampled tea, we mixed tea, we talked to interesting people, and we had some of the best discussions.
You know how there are certain things people say that burn into your brain? I have one of those friends who consistently says sentences that stick with me. It’s a friendship I treasure, but there is also a little carefulness to it because hearing truth isn’t always the easiest thing.
The sentence that has been reverberating in my mind from those days in the tea shop is this:
“Don’t make choices based on fear.”
It went along with a conversation about how you can’t always have 100% pure motives but that waiting until you do is paralyzing. Living out of fear is paralyzing. Being a coward is paralyzing.
I took this to heart, this choosing not out of fear but out of trust. I’ve been attempting to live this way, in both my private life and in my professional life, but it’s an in-progress evolution.
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I thought cowards said “no.” I thought that it was the brave who grasped life by the horns and ran, who said an exuberant Yes! to all that came their way. And so I say yes because I want to be brave. I don’t want to turn my back on possibilities, and I open my hands.
Recently, I’ve been toying with the idea that perhaps “yes” is not always the answer, or at least that maybe it is sometimes the answer born of fear. In more than one instance, I have said yes because I was afraid of reaction. I was afraid of seeming weak. I was afraid of hurting someone.
But where does a weak “yes” get you but to a later, more painful “no”?
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In 2014, I have said a few “nos” that were hard. I dropped a grad school class because I knew in the pit of me that two at once was too much on top of teaching. I never drop classes. Not once in college. It was humbling for me to say, You know what, I don’t think I’m gonna do this.
I was telling a student the other day (she was asking me for advice on a program to study in college and music and what to do) that I am not the person to go to if you want to be talked out of something. If you want to be encouraged and fired up and emboldened, I’m your girl! But you want to be told to let go and drop it? Find somebody else.
But that’s exactly what I let myself do this January.
No to that second class that will ruin both classes and my life.
No to that second date because we have nothing in common (I’m sorry, but trust me, some girl somewhere will love to sit and watch sports with you and make you chicken wings).
No to feeling guilty about skipping small group once in awhile to rejoin my college trivia night team.
No to trying always to be perfect, to following a timeline, to forcing myself into a little mold that can’t hold me or anyone else, really.
Too often I have said “yes” because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of hurting people, of letting them down, of being the woman who’s weak and can’t handle it.
I’m learning that sometimes it is as fearful to say “yes” as it is to say “no.” I’m still figuring out the difference.
[Photo: Sarah Hawkins]