Being a Yes in a No World

By Elaine Kessler

These days it is all too easy and normal to say NO. And while it may be easy and normal, it may not be what’s needed, especially now. That word NO – it’s only 2 letters, it’s super short – but hearing it, saying it, and BEING it can have monumental consequences in our lives.  And THAT is what I want to discuss with you today. 

Desert sunrise - Be a Yes to every new day
Desert sunrise – Be a Yes to every new day

Let me start by explaining what I mean by no. At a very simple level, NO is one of a few responses we make many times throughout the day. Opportunities to respond come when someone asks us to join them for dinner, go on a hike, to be a part of their project. We listen to the proposal, go through a quick and conscious process of weighing the pros and cons, and then make a decision. And a lot of the times, it’s no.  And oftentimes it’s with good reason.  We are either too busy or already overcommitted.  We are not passionate nor interested in what the individual offered. Or maybe we are a bit uncomfortable or fearful about the idea of saying yes because it stretches us or we question if we can even do it.

But many times these opportunities to decide are not so obvious.  Sometimes we are saying no at a *subconscious level* – And we don’t even realize it. It is saying NO in *these* cases that could have grave consequences in our lives. Take the global pandemic right now– while we may wish for the situation to be another way *THIS IS the current state*.  If you notice you are resisting this current state for any reason, you are being a NO to it. You may be thinking….”okay – Who wants to say YES to a pandemic?” Well by being a NO to the pandemic and resisting it, DOES it make the pandemic go away? Does your life magically get better when you are a NO to what is happening in the world?  Does it make you *happier* when you are resisting those things out of your control? If you really think about it…The only thing NO does – is keep us stuck in an endless loop of frustration. All the wishing in the world, all the resisting isn’t going to change how things are.  And since we don’t even *realize* that we’ve said no to these kinds of life situations, many of us stay stuck …Sometimes for days, sometimes years…sometimes a lifetime.  

Where are YOU saying no to something out of your control?  Maybe an unwanted health diagnosis? Maybe a divorce? Maybe the loss of a loved one? The Corona Virus has uprooted the stability of our lives and structures as we know it.  But we have a choice.   We can be a NO and resist what happens to us… Or perhaps, we could choose something altogether different?  Perhaps —— we could be a YES.

I personally hate the word no – I don’t like hearing it, I don’t like saying it. I don’t like thinking it. But I haven’t ALWAYS been a yes. As a matter of fact, I was quite the opposite. Whenever I was faced with something I was fearful of or didn’t understand, my automatic response was NO. But, I considered this a good thing… I was careful and deliberate. I assessed and analyzed how my choice to do, or not do, something might impact all aspects of my life. And I carefully scrutinized all the pitfalls in my choices. NO was most often the right answer to protect myself.  But this was the conscious NO, where we deliberately and intentionally say NO; where we know we’re saying no.  

What about the subconscious NO? I discovered the *subconscious* no when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my 20s.  For those of you unaware,  Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs and lows. Up until the diagnosis, I’d experienced super productive sleepless nights; whirlwind feats of creativity and physical strength *as well as* frighteningly low bouts of sadness and self worth. 

During a manic episode, I had, in the course of one night while my partner slept, painted every room in our home in a variety of colors depicting mountains, flowering vines and geometric patterns. I painted the walls, the doors, the refrigerator, I even painted the toilet. Conversely, during a depressive episode, I spent weeks in bed, unable to leave my bedroom; barely even able to lift my head. I had no idea what was going on.

But I remember 21 years ago, clear as day, storming out of Dr Nunez’s office, a psychiatrist in Newport News, Virginia. I had gone to him, to get a prescription for prozac. Everyone I knew was on it and I thought I needed it too. But instead, he diagnosed me with bipolar disorder – Not what I thought was going to happen – nor what I wanted to hear.  And my reaction?  You guessed it… I was a NO!  I called him a quack and I stormed out of his office. I complained to Will, my husband, that Dr Nunez was off his rocker. Instead of getting the agreement I was expecting, Will stunned me with his silence. Now this was a strange turn of events.  Could Dr Nunez be right?  Could they see something I could not? 

This curiosity lead me to do some research and I started to ask the question, What if? What if I did have bipolar disorder? What if my brain chemistry has been influencing my behavior for years – what if all the tension and hostility I perceived in the world were of my *own* making – what if it *were* me? It was painful, scary, and stigmatizing and I felt very alone. I kicked, screamed, and clawed my way through my resistance and eventually when I became a yes to being someone with bipolar disorder, oh my gosh it was like I could finally see the pieces of my puzzle fall into place. 

I experienced relief at knowing I could *treat* the symptoms; at knowing I could do something to improve my life; and improve the lives of those around me. These results were in radical contrast to when I was a NO. Being a NO kept me enmeshed in my fears, my insecurities, my anger, and my prejudiced notions of what’s right and normal. Being a No destroyed all hope and all options for improvement.  And If I stayed a no, I would have likely become a statistic — 25% of the people with bipolar disorder take their lives. I was poised to be one of them.  But being a yes to my diagnosis, opened up solutions and possibilities for better health and a better way of being in the world.

But, even after seeing all the life altering benefits of this yes, I wasn’t quite an automatic yes to life yet.  And I could see it plain as day when it came to having children.  After 7 years of marriage and Despite the popularity of breeding, I was a NO to having children. I had accepted my diagnosis of bipolar disorder but I was a no to making more humans that would inevitably suffer, especially like I had. But In late 2004, a natural disaster claimed the lives of approximately 280K people. It was dubbed the Christmas tsunami, it was the third largest recorded earthquake and it destroyed entire family lines, hard hitting MY family’s beloved Thailand. While my relatives survived the tsunami, many family lines – did not.

I started thinking What ifWhat if pregnancy and parenthood are *healing*? What if having kids is *miraculous*? What if *my* kids are the doers, the makers, and the producers of peace? What if? It was then that I chose, against all odds – what was possible. After several years of carefully regulating my health with medication and treatment, I chose difficult and high risk pregnancy, I chose the frightening and powerful unmedicated mood swings, I chose the highly probable postpartum depression, I chose the 70% chance of passing mental illness on to my children. I said yes to a future I hadn’t dreamed of and on December 25th 2005, exactly one year after the tsunami my first child was born. 

I created a life that hadn’t been possible in the world…and suddenly …*anything* became possible. For me, having kids, helped me tap into who I get the privilege to be in the world – they help me evolve and to truly become a better human being. And when things get tough for them I DO know where they are coming from because I have been there. I have two strong, resilient, creative, and engaging daughters who light up my world with their brilliance, talent, humor, and love. This would not have been possible had I not been a yes. It is in being a YES that one can perpetually create newness and freshness and ALIVENESS. Yes makes things possible! Now am I saying that the answer to aliveness is having kids?  No, not at all, kids are exhausting. The aliveness is in the risk; in the risk it took to take a chance on what was POSSIBLE. In the risk it took to first ask WHAT IF?

Birthing children may not be on YOUR yes list, but there ARE many benefits to being a YES!  What happens when you ARE a YES? For one, You become more interesting -You become 10x more intriguing if you are a yes. Imagine the possibilities for yourself and others if you are radically more interesting than you are right now? If nothing else, saying and being a yes will give you stories that will help you develop rapport with people. Do you think the Debbie downers and Party poopers of the world are yeses or no’s? Of course they’re no’s and they aren’t fun – Yes makes things interesting AND fun.

Secondly, Your confidence skyrockets and Failure becomes OK – your ability to be with failure is unlimited — you are constantly engaging with possibilities and opportunities and then there it is: mind-blowing confidence. Because of this confidence and ability to be great with failure – you discover that catastrophic things don’t always happen and that you can live through failure so you get better at everything – you genuinely develop mastery faster.

You will also discover new-found creativity – your yes manifests ingenuity and innovation and an infinite number of ideas. Your being a yes widens your lens on the world and more, if not all, things seem possible. As a result, Asking for things becomes easier – your yes paves the way for more yes in your life – whether it’s you articulating it or someone else. If I wasn’t a yes to this pandemic, I wouldn’t have pivoted and discovered what I think will be a goldmine for my business AND for my clients – YES makes things WIN WIN!

Finally, the most profound result of being a yes is that Things just work out. You’ll start to find that there is ease in what used to be complicated and a lightness in what used to be heavy. Life will be smoother and more peaceful as you develop your yes muscle. Things will just work out because you are the opening for them to do so.The world starts to make sense – your yes creates openness; an access to new ways of thinking; and broadens your perspective on the world.

Once I truly discovered the benefits of yes, there was no turning back. I AM an unrelentless yes. For instance, Can we drive to Mexico, have a margarita, capture the sunset, and be back to the east valley in 10 hours? YES. We only did this once – but it was a blast. We dipped our toes in the Sea of Cortez created an amazing capture of the sunset and returned home by bedtime. It was a magical escape. Or how about: Should I start a business in the middle of a recession? YES  Okay, Should I start an ARTS based business in the middle of a recession? YES

I started my photography business in the fall of 2010. It wasn’t and I would add, it isn’t, easy having a business, especially an arts based one. I started my business not quite sure of what my niche would be so I said yes to everything – everything. It was quite the eye opening experience. I knew I could photograph people, products, and places but I wouldn’t have learned my passions had I NOT said yes to everything. Being a YES is enlightening. I learned what I liked and what I didn’t through saying yes and trying different genres. Through saying yes, I learned my style.  As an example, I discovered that I love photographing people – whether it’s fitness photography or professional headshots or lifestyle portraits… And conversely, I do NOT enjoy nor pursue dude-oir, that’s like boudoir (you know the sensual images of women) but for men -dude-oir – it’s a thing! just not for me!

sunset in Mexico - be a yes
Magical Sunset Capture in Mexico

I don’t literally say yes to everything all the time (just ask my kids…or my husband). But my thought process is always a yes. Yes means being open, accepting, receptive, and willing to see what’s possible.

So If Yes is so juicy, why is it so hard for us to get there? Well, I do believe that we are hard wired to say no – to protect our emotions and our bodies. No is the norm, the neutral way to be human.  But we aren’t facing imminent danger like we did when we lived off the land. It isn’t exactly feast or famine, fight or flight anymore. We have evolved in our circumstances, we should evolve in how we respond to our circumstances. Where are you a no right now? Are you having those hard conversations about finances with your spouse… or about  the mounting tension with your business partner? In your health, Are you avoiding going to the doctor out of fear of a diagnosis or do you or a loved one have a diagnosis that you are saying no to or resisting like I did with bipolar disorder? In your business, Are you willing to make cold calls or ask for feedback or do the things that will have your business thrive?Where are you a no right now? 

Still not sure?  Well, consider this.  Notice where you are making excuses, justifications or isolating. This is usually where no is lurking.  Being a no usually looks like certainty where a yes has you curious and moves you forward – NO will keep you stuck. Being a yes will have a compounding effect and you will unlock a momentum like you’ve never known. No is resistance. Yes is acceptance. Yes is freedom, joy, lightness, relief, opportunity, and possibility.  Where are you not feeling freedom, lightness and joy? These are the tell tale signs that you are a NO.

Whenever I feel no may be creeping in, I conduct a little experiment; play a little game. I commit to say yes to every request that comes my way. Sometimes I say yes, even though I have something to still figure out but the game is to always say yes. Kind of like improv – you don’t say NO otherwise the action dies; you kill the momentum with no. After a few weeks of nonstop yes, I experience a shift in my way of thinking. It is as if my life gets flooded with clarity – anything truly does feel possible. I feel lighter and as if I can see more angles to things – there is significantly more perspective with my yes way of being. 

So I want to introduce a little challenge to you here. I’m calling it the YES CHALLENGE. As you can imagine – this is all about being a yes. You’ll be a yes for 7 days and share with me your discoveries after that 7 day yes fest. Not only will you be rewarded with the clarity, ease, and inspiration that yes makes possible, I’ll be offering portrait sessions for participants in the YES challenge too! If you are interested in the YES challenge, send me an email ( – I’ll send you more details! I invite you to be a yes to the yes challenge!

There’s nothing wrong with being a no to things – but I invite you to observe how you are a no- And to interrogate how your no impacts your perspective, your life, and the lives of those around you. You were obviously a yes at some point to the work you are in – whether it is revenue generating or enriching or fulfilling or not right now – You know the power of being a yes already. But I can bet that yes sometimes slips out of sight and out of mind. Next time you feel like saying no, I invite you to consider that Instead of saying no, you could ask “What if?” What if I said yes? The more you practice asking what if, the more you can create a reaction that is affirmative and positive and pave the way for more yes in your life.

I was reading an article recently by Rick Hanson, a psychologist and expert on positive neuroplasticity, and he says…Saying yes to some part of life—does not necessarily mean that you like it. You can say yes to pain, to sorrow, to the things that aren’t going well for you or others. Your yes means that you accept the facts as they are, that you are not resisting them …even if you are trying to change them. 

So Say yes to being alive. Say yes to every new moment. Just say yes. Being a yes saved my life and being a yes created life. Had I said no to my diagnosis – I’d likely be dead; Had I said no to having kids – I might be rich, no I mean, I wouldn’t have the perspective, clarity, and purpose that I have b/c of them; Had I said no to opening my business during a recession, I would be miserable and unfulfilled. If I were a no to this pandemic, I would be missing the opportunity to pivot my business in a way that is truly impactful.

Imagine if Thomas Edison, one of America’s greatest inventors, said NO to research, NO to experimentation, NO to teamwork, or NO to science. Imagine if Martin Luther King, Jr. said NO to civil rights, said NO to the people. Imagine if Mother Theresa said NO to the sick, NO to the poor, No to her calling. No defies hope and no defies possibility. Being a yes makes a difference – not just for others, but for yourself. No is resistance. Yes is acceptance.

Even if you consider yourself a no to most things, try being a yes and see what’s possible to grow in new and surprising ways. What if YOU could grow in new and surprising ways? Being a Yes makes it so. I look forward to connecting with you over the YES challenge and to seeing all the discoveries that YES make possible for you in your life!



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