How A Year Of ‘Yes’ Changed My Life

I’ve always been a fidgety person. I struggle to sit through movies that cross the 90-minute mark, and I can’t stand being stuck in the middle seat on planes. I drove my parents mad on long car rides growing up, and that one time I (accidentally) signed up for yin yoga was tortuous.

My twitchiness hit an all-time peak a little over two years ago. In my job, I was surrounded by a bunch of incredibly intelligent, witty women. I was lucky enough to live by the water, and close – but not too close – to my big fat Italian family. I had an amazing, diverse group of friends. Years of working and building relationships was paying off – isn’t this what people crave? But I was bored.

Sydney – the mind-blowingly beautiful city I’d grown up in – was stale.

How to reset my life?

I began thinking (or obsessing) about how I could switch things up. Sure, I could start hunting for a new job, maybe move to an entirely new area – or city – or sign up to learn some new hobbies.

Instead, I decided to drop everything. I was content, but that wasn’t enough. So I quit my job, broke my lease, moved a million boxes to my mum’s place, and booked a ticket to the country of contrasts and curiosity. The place that I couldn’t shake: the States. More specifically, New York.

I started researching, and settled on travelling for three months before settling in New York. I’d travelled alone before – in some cases, even preferred it – but this time, I wanted to skip the tourist hotspots and spend weeks in not-so-typical destinations, like San Antonio.

And, while I was there, I was going to say yes to everything. To new opportunities, new plans, new people, and things that pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I was going to hesitate less, and just do more.

What’s the worst that could happen?

I’d always been an optimistic person, so this was just taking it up a notch. Right?

Soon enough, the social experiment began.

A “Year of Yes”

Over the next few months, I travelled around America’s south, then worked my way up the West Coast. I made a point to speak to everyone I met,  keep a journal of anecdotes and hilarious quotes, and be present. I did things I knew I’d probably hate, like go to a shooting range (never again), try foods that looked less than appetising, and take my intense bird phobia on a day trip to Alcatraz, where the pelican population is thriving – and there’s nowhere to hide. On the flipside, I chopped and changed my itinerary to suit my mood, and spent more time in the places I loved.

By the time I landed in New York, I had so many stories to tell. And then I hopped onto the NYC rollercoaster.

a year of yes

I said yes to meeting my friend when I locked myself out of my Airbnb on the one night the owner was out of town. I was irritated, but I went – then it all turned around when I met the man who – a year on – is my match. (Before that, ask my friends: I was bordering on being a commitment phobe).

I said yes to staying, and setting up my freelance business in the USA in a time when political uncertainty meant months and mountains of paperwork, with no guarantee of success.

I said yes to events I’d normally decline, and gained new clients and more importantly, friends who I feel like I’ve known for years.

Fast forward to now, and I’m still here. People ask me how long I’m going to stay, and I don’t have a timeline for them. I don’t think too far ahead into the future, I just focus on what’s in front of me, a huge change from how I was previously. I feel challenged every single day. New York has a habit of making you prove your love for it, and on some days, it’s really hard!

Facing your fear

Sydney-based clinical psychologist Gemma Cribb says there’s a power in facing your fears – even just of the unknown – and saying yes more.

“Often, we fear things that aren’t real,” she says. “For example, we fear going to the party because of a thought that ‘no one will talk to me’, or we fear applying for a promotion because we think, ‘I won’t get it and people will judge me.

“Facing your fears often results in a better outcome than expected or, if a negative outcome occurs, builds your confidence in your resilience and ability to cope with negative events,” Cribb says.

However, she says we shouldn’t throw caution completely out the window.

“Just like saying ‘no’ to everything is unhelpful, saying ‘yes to every opportunity is also unhelpful without some level of assessment of the long-term consequences. Discrimination is the key.”

To make the most helpful decision, she says to ask yourself questions such as, “what’s the best that could happen?” and “what would I advise a friend to do in this situation?”

She adds that responding to life more positively comes with practice. The more you do it, the easier it is to shift your mindset.

Try it! Shonda Rhimes did a “year of yes”, too – and it seems to be working out for her!

Katia Iervasi is a freelance writer and editor who splits her time between Sydney and New York. She’s constantly inspired by the people and places that make those cities tick. You can find her on Instagram @katiaiervasi.