A few months ago, I wrote about being brave, which I am not. But in reflecting on my last trip around the sun, I realized that what I lack in bravery, I make up for in willingness to try new things. Bravery and willingness are not mutually exclusive, but where a brave person might actively choose to do something scary or new, I am just willing to go along for the ride. This year, I traveled to Africa, I scaled a rock face that was well beyond my skills and my level of confidence, I rolled down a mountain in a big plastic hamster ball and, most recently, I learned how to ride a dirt bike. Why, you ask? Because someone suggested it.

Liz Marsh

There’s a social theory about the “first follower.” Basically, the theory posits that a person willing to say yes to a big idea is just as important as the “leader” who generated the idea. The first follower has to be willing to trust the leader, willing to fail at the activity and willing to set an example for others who might be more hesitant about joining. The first follower is who transforms an idea into an action. I’m learning what a valuable skill it can be, and I plan to spend my 35th year cultivating it.

Saying yes comes in all sizes. It can include small things like, “Yes, I will put pants back on and go to a late weeknight concert with you,” or big things like, “Yes, I do want to go kayaking with crocodiles.” None of the big ticket activities that I’ve done in the last year were my idea — they weren’t on my bucket list, they weren’t goals that I set for myself. Rather, they were things that were suggested to me or merely intimated in my presence. They were things that scared me or inspired me or just sparked my curiosity enough to say, “Sure, let’s do that thing.”

The downside to being a person who says yes is that people come to expect it of you and you start to feel like you can’t say no. It also can be harder to delineate between a healthy level of nervousness and something that actually makes you uncomfortable. But if you can strike the right balance between saying yes and knowing when to say no, you’ll find yourself doing things that really surprise you.

Last weekend, I held my breath as I tried to find the right balance between the clutch and the accelerator of the dirt bike I was on. I let the clutch out unevenly, and the bike jerked forward, much faster than I would have preferred. My adrenaline spiked, but I took a deep breath and steadied my right hand, bringing the speed back down. As I got the bike under control and turned the corner smoothly, I thought to myself, “How did I even get here?” and then I thought, “It’s pretty cool that I’m here.” And that is what saying yes is all about.

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