Posted by: alex lee | November 24, 2009

Just say ‘yeah’

I just signed up for my last semester of classes EVER. (At least at Penn –for now.)  With graduation just six months away, I face the task of squeezing the lemon that is life. And while that means saying ‘yes’ to doing as many things as your heart desires, it requires the sensibility to discern what your heart truly desires so you can say ‘no’ to all the other distracting requests for your time that drift into your lap. Somehow, I always start with a list of ten classes that I want, and end up with four or five that either I need or can’t justify taking anywhere else at any point of my life other than Spring of 2010. It seems laughable –and it is. But it is true.

The biggest lesson I think I’m learning now, besides to live where I will have a short commute and can sleep quietly, is to say ‘no’ to people I like, to things I sort of want to do, so I can do the things I need to do or the things I love to do. This requires two things: direction (product of clarity, priorities, and long-term goals), and courage (doing things despite their consequences). I have heard so often that ‘you can’t make everyone happy’ –and yet I try so hard.

I guess saying ‘no’ is only easy if you have remarkable people skills. While I think my own are sufficient, it is hard to say ‘no’ without feeling just a tinge of guilt behind the ears. And yet knowing when to say ‘yes’ and to what are the hardest things to figure out.

I think it is easy to grow up clueless and dispassionate in a culture and society so driven by materialism as is ours. Google, the world’s favorite search engine does not offer its services as charity, and NBC doesn’t produce some of the best prime time comedies just to make people laugh. They do it to make money; to keep your attention just long enough to get your eyes to eat a commercial advertisement or two. Those commercials are crafted to pluck your heart strings or tickle your ego enough to build in you an emotional connection to a product or service. At least if I were trying to advertise something that is what I would do. Emotion tends to overcome reason. It is hard enough to try say ‘no’ to all these messages, and it’s even harder to say ‘yes’ to the things that really matter, or even to find a moment to get a sense of what they are.

To help do that I like to shut off my distractions. Then I just close my eyes and ask myself what do I want? Sometimes it is something obvious like a hover-bike or a boat; then I have to listen a little more carefully. At other times it is something else like ‘eat a steak taco’, or pick up a new habit (more like running, less like smoking). It is never an easy task and it definitely takes practice; but I think when I know what I am saying ‘yes’ to it is much easier on my conscience when I have to say ‘no’.

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