Insight: The One Word That Unlocks Your Life

My daughter was 12 years old. I had been away for a few days on business. After a hectic travel day getting home, I landed in bed about 3:00am, exhausted. Abigail (not her real name) was at the side of my bed at 7 whispering “Dad, are you awake?”. Enough times to get a response.

“Can we go to Starbucks?”

And here it was. The moment of truth.

Years prior, when my son was three, I came home from a long day of work. I worked in the trades back then. Grueling, manual labor. The backbreaking kind.

Chase (again, not his name) came running up the stairs when he heard me, jumped up into my arms and after a very tight squeeze exclaimed, “Dad, come play lego with me!”

The moment of truth.

I was in New Jersey providing consulting and training for a large local company. It was 6pm on Friday night, the end of my second day with them, and a 6am meeting was coming up Saturday morning. I was drained, I needed some peace and quiet, and I was looking forward to watching a hockey game and ordering some room service before turning in for an early bedtime. Alas, the owner of the local company invited me to his weekly poker game.

The moment of truth.

These moments happen every day. Opportunity has a way of showing up at inopportune times. The key to unlocking opportunity is the language with which we respond.

Yeah but…

Yeah but let’s do it later. Yeah but I don’t have the energy right now. Yeah but just let me rest first. Yeah but I have to get up early tomorrow. These are all quite reasonable, and quite real. The problem with ‘yeah buts’ is that they are usually true. And they’re always stifling.

Yeah buts feel real, and they’re always well supported. They’re easy to justify. Worse, there is never any felt loss upon the deployment of a yeah-but.

You don’t know what you’re missing. That’s the hidden cost.

The moment of truth

When you are confronted by an opportunity to enhance the life of yourself or another, say yes. Yes. That’s it. That’s the magic. It’s both the simplest thing you can do and the most profound.

Yes had me on my way to Starbucks with my daughter, singing along to Taylor Swift at the top of our lungs. It was never about Starbucks and I wouldn’t trade that memory for all the lattes in Italy.

Yes put me on the floor rolling around with my son, building robots and warships and race cars. Hours passed before I realized I was still in my work clothes. It was never about the Lego.

My kids are well into their teens today, and the substance of my favorite memories with them are not from lavish vacations or planned outings or scheduled ‘quality time’. They are the seemingly random moments that can’t be planned for or scripted in advance. And they were all preceded by a moment when the yes coming out of my mouth was in direct contradiction to all of the yeah-buts coming from mind.

Yes had me in a basement with 13 men, any one of whom could have been part of the cast of The Sopranos, playing poker in a smokey cloud around a pool table until 3am. This sheltered Canadian experienced a side of the American Northeast that lived only in the movies. Sleep be damned. It was never about poker. I’ve got friends from that poker game that I still keep in touch with 13 years later.

Yes unlocks your life. It unlocks a part of your life that you don’t currently know could exist. That’s what makes it so powerful. When a buddy texts you and asks you to go to the game, it’s not about the game. When your spouse wants to go out for an ice cream and a drive, it’s not about the ice cream.

You’re deliberating your answer on entirely the wrong criteria. You’re evaluating the answer to life’s queries based on the query. Consider the query the lid to pandora’s box. Starbucks and Lego and Poker are just different labels on the same door. When you say yes, you open the door and discover a whole world of moments, memories and experiences that will go with you the rest of your life. The kind that are unscripted (unscriptable!), unplanned and unforgettable.


I can hear all of the objections now. I hear them every time I teach this concept. Let’s deal with your yeah-buts to saying yes.

Yeah but if I say yes to every thing I’ll never have a life.

You’ll have a life alright. It’ll be unscripted and unforgettable. If you mean you’ll have less time for Netflix and scrolling social media, you couldn’t be more right. I can’t wait to hear about it.

Yeah but I’ll be broke! Do you mean to tell me that if my spouse asks me to to go to Hawaii, I should just say yes?

What if you did? That seems like a big win to me. Say yes, and then sit down and figure out how and when. My son asked me if could have a Ferarri when he was 11. I said yes and we talk often about what he’s going to need to do to make that a reality. He’s late teens now and still says he’s going to do it. He’s laser focused and I believe he’ll do it, or at least be in a place where he can realistically choose whether or not he still wants to when he can afford it. It’s inspired great conversations about college and career and life. What if I had said no? It ends the conversation, it shuts down creativity, and it limits possibility.

If I say yes to literally everything, I become a boundary-less doormat.

I really like that you see the boundaries disappearing. Not the healthy ones, that’s not what I’m asking. Be really clear, I’m not asking you to say yes to something that would cause harm to you or anyone else. I’m not asking you to say yes to abuse or hurt. I’m asking you to say yes to the seemingly innocuous moments where something special could be just on the other side of that yes. You’ll know them when you see them. In fact, by saying yes more often, you’ll become even more clear where no is appropriate. Your boundaries will be strengthened.

Say Yes

Say yes when doing so has the potential to enhance your life or the life of another. Say yes, not to the query, but to the unknown opportunity that lives behind the query.

Say yes to unlock your life.

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