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Going to Extremes

going-to-extremes

On the flight back from South America last week, the airline was showing Yes Man, a film starring Jim Carrey. Left to my own devices, I rarely finish a movie, but I watched the first two-thirds of this one and thought it was great.

The premise of Yes Man is that a guy who usually says no to everything – requests from friends, growth opportunities at work, and so on – has to make a sudden switch where his default answer becomes yes to any request he encounters.

As he says yes instead of no, his life dramatically changes. He gives away money on the street, signs up for guitar lessons, talks a suicide jumper down from the ledge, and so on. Like most movies created by committee in Hollywood, it’s highly formulaic – but I liked the message: instead of saying no to opportunities, why not find a way to say yes?

As powerful as that message is, however, I couldn’t help thinking about the vast majority of people who have gone to see that movie. The question I zeroed in on was, “What do you think most of those people thought and did after they left the theatre?”

Here’s my speculation. I think they thought to themselves:

“That was a nice movie. Jim Carrey is a good actor.”

And here’s what I think they did:

Absolutely nothing. As in, nothing different than before they saw the movie.

To them, the idea of saying yes to life is just a movie. That’s why movies like Yes Man are so popular: they offer a Cinderella fantasy for the practitioners of life avoidance. It falls in the same alternative universe as Spiderman – a good world to be immersed in for 109 minutes, but none of it is real, right?

Part of me wants to grab these people as they leave the theatre: “Hey! What if it wasn’t just a movie? What if you really got up tomorrow and decided to live that way? This is your wake-up call!”

Of course, I know that wouldn’t go over well. Some people are comfortable with living vicariously through Hollywood. It’s an easy, safe, comfortable choice, and I’d rather preach to the choir than evangelize the unconverted.

***

In the Rock-Paper-Scissors game of life, every day we have endless choices. Door A or B, blue or red pill, etc. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Hope beats fear
2. Abundance beats scarcity
3. Yes beats no

A few years ago, I started saying yes to things. It wasn’t a gimmick like the movie, and I didn’t say yes to everything – but I went from looking for reasons to say no and started looking for ways to say yes.

  • Round-the-World trip while I’m still in school? OK.
  • Climb Table Mountain in South Africa when I’m supposed to be working? Alright.
  • Go running in the middle of the night in Sri Lanka? Sure.

Conventional living is all about being balanced, well-rounded, risk-adverse, and safe. The problem is that well-rounded people rarely do anything interesting. Balanced people don’t usually change the world.

The alternative is to truly live, and come back tired – even if you’re not traveling. Be better than you have been before. Give more than you take. Embrace the extremes. Say yes.

Final Thoughts

That thing you’re working on today – will it matter one year from now? If so, great. Keep doing that. If not, why are you doing it?

Here’s wishing you well from my new home (for this week) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I hope all is well with you, wherever you are.

###

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89 Comments

  • Pierre says:

    I think the project I’m working on will matter a year from now, but only time will tell. That uncertainty is daunting and probably prevents many people from trying something new. Hope beats fear is a good rule to invoke in that situation. Maybe we could add “Creating beats consuming”.

  • annie smidt says:

    Great post! The alternative rock-paper-scissors formula might have to go on a stickie where I can see it often.

    I can’t really bear watching mainstream/Jim Carey movies either, but I did appreciate the premise of this one when I saw the previews a while back.

    There is, also though, sometimes as much danger in always saying “yes” as always saying “no”. You can get subsumed and walked upon by always saying “yes” to the wrong things — like some of the things I’m working on today which aren’t going to matter a year from now (but pay the bills). “Yes” can hold you back when used injudiciously. “Yes” can protect you from Real Living as much as “No”.

    Nonetheless, there is still something brilliant about “Yes”. I used to think of it as “jumping off the cliff” (in a good way): you’re standing on the edge of some possibly great opportunity out of your comfort zone and although everything in you is saying, “say no, step back and run away!” you say “yes” instead, and make the leap.

  • Chris, I think you’re a model for the message in this movie. And I took from it a (somewhat laughable) battlecry, “Yes-man! Yes-man!” that my partner and I like to tease each other with, when tempted to turn in, instead of heading out.

    Re: Mr. Carey, I actually thought he looked haggard and old. And I realized later in the film that that was probably intentional, that he might transform into looking less haggard with all his yessings. But a dangerous move for him as an actor, because that stuck with me. (Who knows if that read on your flight screen.)

  • Bill says:

    “What if it wasn’t just a movie?”

    It wasn’t. It was loosely based on Danny Wallace’s book about what happened to him when he did just that.

  • Ned says:

    All very well to say “yes” to various options when you are young, after all, why not? you have little to lose and experience to gain.
    However, speaking from the other side of 35 I can inform you that the questions and options change! (give birth in a mud hut without any medical backup? start paying into a pension? default on the mortgage and run away to Istanbul?)
    Increasingly, to say yes to one option is to reject another, a positive answer is not necessarily a positive move….

    still, i enjoy your posts!

  • I think “balanced people don’t usually change the world” is my new favorite quote. I’m going to conjure that one up whenever that little voice in my head starts telling me that I should be more normal… thanks for the inspiration!

  • John says:

    Hey Chris,

    I haven’t seen ‘Yes Man’, but I’ll definitely try and watch it. In regards to the more important message in this post, what I’m working towards will definitely matter in a year. I’ve said yes to MYSELF (giving myself permission to pursue my dreams) and I haven’t looked back.

    Can I still maintain a blog while I’m in college? Yes.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Theun says:

    I read the book by Danny Wallace on which that movie was based several years ago. It changed my life in a very good way.

    At first I was often rejecting my friend’s invitations to go out and do something, because I didn’t feel like it… Stupid reason of course. After reading that book, saying yes more, my life was enriched. I went to Italy to learn Italian, travelling through the country, meeting interesting people. I went out more, having some crazy experiences. I learned Chinese, going to China again this summer. And afterwards I’m going to Milan to study for half a year.

    Still, a post like this is a good realization for me again. Cause I’m wondering… Why do I want a balanced routine life??

    Thanks.

  • Hi Chris,

    Thank you for this very energizing post, and very inspiring at the time I am improving my copy for the contest, it’s not difficult to write a good post, actually….

    About movies, I never consider them as only movies. And before I was only watching very “cinephile” movies. Today I found a lot of deep and inspiring wisdom in the most popular movies.

    I would change the way the movie is done, the style to aim a change from the viewers, but the film industry don’t want to change people, not even a bit, only wants a bit of their money…

    I am watching a lot of movies this days, to inspire me to write all the small stories I am writing for a book. and in order to change the world, we need to stop being spectators and start being actors, actors of our own life…

    have a great time in your travels, lucky happy man, my heart is with you

    Vincent

  • This very subject has been the topic of emails with my brother, a philosophy professor in China, and myself recently. Having to do with saying yes and stepping way outside the comfort zone. It means both of us have lived really interesting lives and done a lot of odd things. At least in the opinion of most people. A few get it, many don’t. The bar of being average is pretty low, but so many people don’t step over it. They don’t realize what they’re missing.
    Best, Sandra

  • J.R. says:

    I watched the movie and really enjoyed it.

    The premise of the movie is about how Jim Carey’s life changed for both the good and the bad through saying yes constantly. For those who have posted and haven’t seen it, he ultimately found that he could only say yes in moderation in order to live reasonably. If you say “yes” to everything, according to the movie, you’re likely to end up naked in a room with thousands of other naked “Yes Men.” So Chris’ post, in my opinion, speaks to that as well… not a blind charge for us to say yes without hesitation.

    Yes is powerful and scary, but we should use it more!

  • This post really hits home for me for a couple of reasons Chris. I was working on a giant project at work that was consuming all of my time for the last year. Just before we launched I realized that if everything worked well it still was a year I would not get back and the payback was not really worth it at all for all of the time invested (wasted). This caused me to really rethink everything that I do in life and whether what I do is really making a lasting influence.

    The other thing was this movie. I tend to be full of talk but after that first aha moment and then seeing the Jim Carrey movie I have started to refuse to accept what societal norms are telling me is acceptable and what is pushing the envelope.

    I have no idea where this leads and I do not even know if this is just a north american thing but I can not go back now to living for 60 or 65 retirement, I can’t even go through a day without questioning what value to me the actions that I am taking are leading going to lead to.

  • MagsMac says:

    AWESOME post Chris.Your Rock-Paper-Scissors is being printed and handed out to the office today 🙂

  • Nate says:

    Very inspirational post as usual. I saw Yes Man a while back and had basically the same reaction of you. I really appreciated this quote: “That’s why movies like Yes Man are so popular: they offer a Cinderella fantasy for the practitioners of life avoidance.”

    These “practitioners” need some kind of wake up call, and eventually it will come; hopefully sooner than later. I will never forget the day I had mine.

    Wonderful post once again and hope all is well with you!

  • Thanks for the great post Chris (and reminder to act with purpose)!

    Twenty years ago I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and said yes to an invitation to travel to Europe (I had never left the West Coast before) and ended up giving away most of what I owned back home to extend my stay. The people I met and the experiences I had altered the course of my life.

    However, over the last couple of years I have found myself needing that spark to strike once more. Your article came at the right moment to encourage me to light the fire anew!

    Thanks again!

  • I love Jim Carrey and I loved this movie. And while I’m not saying yes to every opportunity that comes along (and one lesson of the movie is that you shouldn’t) I certainly try to remember that great things can happen when you say yes to opportunities. It’s even more important when you’re trying to get a business going.

    Lucky for me I’m young and I have a safety net and I’m happy with being different, so it’s a lot easier for me to say yes.

  • Judah says:

    Wow…really enjoyed this post this morning. “Well-rounded people rarely do anything interesting” really caught my attention; I’m going to enjoy pondering on that one all day. Thanks for your inspiring words.

  • Glen Allsopp says:

    I have been up Table Mountain about six times now, absolutely love it. I wonder if we were nearby one time 😉

    Great post Chris and very well written. I’m not sure your shaking after the movie would go down well.

  • andrea scher says:

    This was an ass kicker of a post Chris… wow.

    What you said here: “Conventional living is all about being balanced, well-rounded, risk-adverse, and safe. The problem is that well-rounded people rarely do anything interesting. Balanced people don’t usually change the world.

    The alternative is to truly live, and come back tired – even if you’re not traveling. Be better than you have been before. Give more than you take. Embrace the extremes. Say yes.”

    Words to live by.
    Thank you…

  • GiGi says:

    I saw this movie on a bus ride while in Peru about 6 weeks ago. I agree that the movie itself is very Hollywood. Did you know that the film was based on a book “Yes Man” by Danny Wallace, the true story of a man who lived a year saying ‘yes’? When I found that out I was really interested in the concept.

    My life is in somewhat of a rut. I spent the last year working 2 jobs to pay off all my debt and I still live a fairly simple and frugal lifestyle. This is good in many ways but I now I feel I need to “get out there” more and do more.

    I decided to make some changes and that includes saying ‘yes’ to more things. I often say ‘yes’ but then change my mind and back out. I’ve been trying to do this for a few weeks now and it is hard but I think the more I do it the easier it will become.
    So….this movie (and book) did affect one person, at least :o)

  • Steve Cherches says:

    Great post, Chris. Saying “yes” is something I’m trying to do more and more these days. The things I say “yes” to today are things I couldn’t have imagined 5 or 10 years ago. These experiences and opportunities have changed my life in so many ways.

    That said, it is not an easy thing to do. Changing your mindset and your behavior is hard. And you constantly have to battle that voice that says “No.” The most important part for me is trying to determine whether or not that negative response is valid, or if it’s just an excuse.

    Thanks for the observation and the inspiration… Steve

  • Etsuko says:

    Chris,

    Great post!
    I think the point is not that you say “yes” to everything that comes your way, but learn to say “yes” to the opportunity that will make you happy, or bring you closer to your goals. It takes knowing what is it that you really w