I was just 14 years old when I said "yes" to something that, although uncomfortable at the time, has led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in business, priceless experiences and fulfilling personal and professional relationships beyond my wildest expectations.
And it's all because I had the guts to say "yes".
I was a freshman at Sayreville War Memorial high school when a senior named Timothy Medel challenged me. He challenged me to write a poem, get on our high school stage and "slam" it - a type of poetry that, at the time, made me nauseatingly uncomfortable.
Effective "slamming" required two things I didn't have: first, you had to have confidence in your writing. Second, you had to have enough confidence in your writing to share it with others a compelling way. Again, two things I most certainly didn't have at the time.
But I said yes anyway.
What I didn't realize was that "yes" would impact my entire life, now more than a decade since, in a number of profound ways. A simple "yes" can do the same for you.
- Saying "yes" can create a positive ripple effect that extends for years, opening doors you never knew existed and helping form relationships you wouldn't have created otherwise. Saying "no" shuts you out from those relationships and any subsequent benefits.
- Saying "yes" promotes collaboration and group problem solving. Saying "no" leads to isolation, causing you to lose sight of potential solutions and happenings around you.
- Saying "yes" leads to listening and learning, while saying "no" limits both. You don't know everything and what you know don't know can still hurt you without you even knowing it.
- Saying "yes" promotes trust. Even if you end up saying "no" in the end, you'll have created a relationship by hearing out the other side. "No" is a dead stop before a start.
And I'm not the only one who's reaped the tremendous benefits of saying "yes".
My friend Dan Green, CEO of Growella, has too.
Over the years Dan has started, scaled and sold several successful companies, and he attributes much of that success to the simple saying "yes". Believe it or not, his connection with the word start years ago, when he challenged himself to play guitar.
But there was a problem.
"My family didn't have a lot of money and I couldn't afford to do regular lessons, so I went and rented a nylon string guitar from the local music store and I took this free adult learning class once a week" he said to me.
So, he refined this skill all through college, adhering to the age old adage of playing until his fingers bled. Saying "yes" to this would have an impact on him later.
After graduation, Dan had a job lined up.
But with his start date six weeks out, he wanted to take advantage of the break in between. "I went to Europe. I bought a rail pass and was traveling around Europe with a friend and, once the six weeks were up, I was supposed to go home."
But Dan was enjoying his trip too much, so he sent a request to his employer hoping to get the start date pushed back. His employer obliged, but now he had a new host of problems. Namely, he was in the middle of Rome and down to his last few dollars.
What did he do next?
He scraped together his last few bucks and bartered for a guitar at a small music shop in Rome. Now, with no money left, he realized the only way he was going to be able to extend his trip -or get back home for that matter- was to busk for money, playing guitar.
Miraculously, through guitar playing alone, he extended his trip another ten weeks.
"During the day I would take a bunch of time and play guitar to earn tips. At night time I'd offer to do a couple of shows. Then I'd spend the time exploring Europe."
His Europe trip was back in 1998 but, despite that, he made friendships that still impact him to this day. "You do one thing, say yes to one small choice like play guitar, and it leads to a trip, and it leads to extending that trip.. All these things build off of each other and it's all because you say yes to the one thing."
I live by a saying now: change your language, change your life.