As I mentioned in the last post, I am not great at living within limits. I’m not alone in this, am I? Time limits. Physical limits. Blood Alcohol limits. Seat limits. Talent limits. Budgetary limits. Legal limits. Physical limits. Relational limits. Energy limits. I tend to ignore them all until I feel the consequences of living outside of them.
These consequences incarnate in me biting my nails like a corn on the cob, a dead behind the eyes look that would make Kim Kardashian seem engaging, and a general lack of excellence in everything that I do. Once my wife or another courageous villager helps me recognize my over committed, under nurtured behavior I have a choice to make: will I continue to live from a place outside of my limits or will I choose to realign and prioritize my behaviors to what is important and possible?
I was recently at such a crossroads. Like a metronome whose battery is dying, I exhaustedly went through my work, eat, sleep, repeat rhythm (maybe it’s not a work rhythm for you. Maybe it is an unhealthy relationship, anger, eating habits, spiritual negligence, or that you watch back to back episodes of Dance Moms). Then one day as I sat down for dinner with my 9-month pregnant wife I stared at her belly like it was a time bomb. Her womb, crowded with a 9lb baby, reminded me that my life did not have space for 2 jobs, 2 projects, a wife, and a newborn. I had to realign and prioritize my behaviors to what was important and possible.
My friend Blaine and I have begun to call this difficult process “owning the big yes.”
Everyone should have a big yes. If your big yes is individually enacted and rewarded (be the happiest, climb the ranks at work, run a marathon, defeat the next Call of Duty) I would be concerned. Those are fine small yeses but I think that our big yeses should be roles and relationships (a daughter, husband, team member at Pixar, etc). This is easier said then done in an autonomous Western culture that confuses alone as heroic, more with better, safety with wisdom, and busy with successful. But I believe it’s worth it.
Any idea what your big yes is?
Once identified, owning your big yes means that you will have to go back on some of your smaller yeses. If you recall Taryn and I’s birth plan, it did not go as expected. After 30 hours of medication free labor her body was stuck and our little baby boy was not making any progress. As the evening shift set into morning shift, the newest of our doctors arrived (by my count, during the labor there were at least 20 people “under the hood”). He entered the room like John Wayne onto the silver screen. After an uncomfortable amount of silence and staring (never what you want from a doctor) he sassed to Taryn, “so what do you want me to tell you?” For at least 30 seconds the man in navy scrubs and my wife had a staring contest. Finally the doctor broke and he said, “if you want to have this baby before it becomes dangerous for you and for him, we need to start Pitocin and we need to relax your body. OK?”
Dick Head Doctor’s words were exactly what we needed to hear. He reminded us of the big yes of labor – a healthy baby and a healthy mom. No longer was it about our small yeses (medication free, no C-section, etc). For the rest of the delivery we gave a yes to the things that helped support the big yes.
Sometimes owning the big yes is not that clear cut. Perhaps you feel like you have lots of big yesses. I have no doubt that all of them are good projects, intentions, and desires. The problem is, you can’t do it all. Remember limits? You cannot be a good friend and work 70 hour weeks. You can’t have a career in fashion and in molecular science. You can’t possibly lead a small group, a book club, a whiskey class, and a softball team all while getting your PhD. To own your big yes you are going to have to say no to good, even great things and likely disappoint some people.
Disappointing people terrifies me (we can discuss my psychosis another time). As I recently decided to simplify my work it meant that I would say no to good friends, coworkers and projects. Things that I loved! And as I made those difficult phone calls and sat down for those difficult meetings, I held onto my big yes of being an available father and husband. And you know what? When I explained my reasons for quitting they all understood. People respect your big yeses. If not, they probably aren’t worth working with in the first place.
So what if we all owned our big yes? For me, I imagine less Kardashian stares and maaaaaybe a little less nail biting. For all of us I imagine it would be difficult but feel unnaturally natural. I imagine a lot less BS. I imagine less anxiety. I imagine greater efficiency and less exhaustion. I imagine a world built on trust in others – where all of us live to the edge of our limitations only to link hands with someone else doing the same. And perhaps only then are we limitless.