There is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now and it has to do with motivation. Not just the motivation to lace up my shoes and get out the door for a run, though. It’s more than that, it’s not just a momentary ‘convincing myself’ that I should be doing something, but rather an attitude and deeper understanding of how I want to approach the important things in life.
Running, cycling, sure, they’re important, and they have in a very positive way changed my life and given it lots of colour, happiness and adventure. What I’m talking about here, however, is a bit bigger.
When I was growing up, I just went with the flow, did what everyone around me did and tried to figure out what I wanted to ‘be’ when I grow up. My sporting achievements were basically non-existent and I didn’t feel the urge to do anything particularly notable.
At some point, I must have been around 15, I had a really important realisation: If I put a bit of extra effort into my school work, I get better grades and this whole education thing becomes a lot more fun.
Admittedly, this ain’t no groundbreaking discovery, but for me it was life-changing, because for the first time, I went above and beyond and I started seeing results that encouraged me to continue that way. I noticed the positive impact of my academic success on my confidence and I also managed to figure out more clearly what subjects interested me more than others.
Looking back, the last few years of school were the time I started much more consciously saying yes to some things and no to others.
At the moment of commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you.
Saying yes to adventures
When I left for New Zealand on 1 November 2004 to explore the country for 3 months, I was 19, super excited and ready to take on the world. I had so many plans and couldn’t wait to get there and see it all for myself. As the plane took off and I looked out the window, I thought ‘what the fuck am I doing here??? Have I gone completely insane???’, but thankfully we were already in the air, so I couldn’t turn back.
Always go with the choice that scares you the most because that’s the one that is going to help you grow.
After the long 26 hour trip to Auckland, my fears had given way to excitement once again and being greeted by friendly Kiwis, sunshine, blue skies and spring temperatures were all I needed to start my adventure and the many many other journeys that followed in the years since then.
My ‘yes’ got stronger over the years. The beauty of growing older, wiser, more confident and also having the financial means to have a backup plan, worked in my favour and after a few years, my usual yes started turning into a ‘Hell yes!’.
What is ‘Hell yes’?
To me, Hell yes, means saying yes to something with all my heart and a clear mind. It’s not a half-drunk ‘sure, I’ll do a marathon next year’ kind of yes. It’s a YES that sits there, looks fear and doubt and worry straight in the eye and says ‘watch me’. It’s a YES that is aware of the obstacles in the way but believes in the power of overcoming them. It’s a YES that looks at the finish line and knows ‘that’s where I’m going’. It’s a YES that eyes up the podium and whispers ‘always aim for first’. It’s a YES that listens to the heart, mobilises all the physical resources, notifies the brain of the plan and then charges ahead with 100% focus and dedication.
If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.
Sure, a yes will be good enough. I don’t like good enough though.
I was born with a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out) or, as my parents would describe it, a real hunger for life and fear of death.
Nothing scares me more than leaving this live far too early and not having done all the things I want to do, given everything I can and used up all my talents, strength and compassion to make our world a better place.
I am also really bad at saying No. I’m even worse at saying ‘Hell no!’. But it’s important because life has an end date and I don’t want to waste my time with things that don’t spark joy, so my mission is to be certain about my decisions.
I want every significant decision to be either a ‘Hell Yes!’ or a ‘Hell No!’. And all those little decisions in between? The ‘what to wear’ and ‘what do eat’ kind of decisions? They should be hell yes’s and hell no’s as well.
Last week I went shopping and found myself trying on a dress that looked really pretty on the mannequin. On me? Not so much. The sales assistant was full of compliments of course and ignored my raised eye brows that were trying to signal her ‘are you serious???’. So to make it clear to her that this dress was not a ‘Hell Yes’ for me, I mustered all my courage and took the risk of sounding rude and arrogant and said ‘I’m sorry, but unless I look spectacular in the dress, I won’t buy it, and this dress doesn’t make me look spectacular.’ Then I walked out.
It wasn’t a ‘Hell Yes’ and no one could convince me otherwise. When I got home, I sorted through the clothes in my closet and removed a few items that certainly are not ‘Hell Yes’ kind of outfits. They will be given another chance in a few months time and if I don’t love them then, I’ll give them away for someone else to wear.
Of course there are days when nothing makes me feel like saying ‘Hell Yes’ when I look in the mirror, and on those days I try to move onto other decisions with food being a very obvious choice. I actually expect every meal I eat to be something I love eating. That’s the wonderful thing about being an adult – I can eat whatever I want and no one can tell me otherwise.
On the same shopping trip mentioned above, I happened to eat chocolate gelato straight after breakfast and it was glorious, indulgent, totally inappropriate on a cold December morning, and I savoured every spoonful!
Some days I eat salad for dinner, other days I eat two big bowls of Thai curry with a family-sized serving of white rice. And I love it!
Be all in or get all out. There is no halfway.
Saying Hell Yes at work
I can openly admit, that I say yes to too many things and this year I definitely overcommitted myself. Why? Because there were so many exciting challenges and opportunities that came my way and I just really wanted to do it all.
When I first started talking to Exasol two years ago, while I was still living in Australia, I hadn’t given any thought to the idea that I could join them one day, because at the time I was focused on finding a role as a Tableau consultant. That was my job in Australia and it was what I knew how to do.
After talking to Aaron, our CEO, about his vision for Exasol and the role I could play, I knew that it was the right place for me and that my answer to their offer would be an absolute ‘Hell YES’ (with capital letters…). Looking back at the last 16 months I can confirm that it was the right choice and that it still is a ‘Hell YES’ every morning, because I get to do the things I love to do in a way that most effectively uses my skills and talents, so I can bring my whole self to work.
The jobs I had before joining Exasol were great in their own way and I often felt fulfilled and challenged by them which brought me a lot of satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. I got to work with smart and passionate people and interesting clients in various locations.
What makes Exasol stand out for me among the others is the freedom and responsibility I have been given. That made a huge difference for me.
Of course these things don’t get handed to you in your first job out of university and probably not for a long time when working in large corporates, where you are ‘one of many’. From my first job working in a shoe shop and doing stock taking at supermarkets when I was 15 until the dream job I have today, 17 years have passed, 12 of which I spent consciously working on my career, my skills and networks. It doesn’t just happen overnight.
Having your motivation and dedication acknowledged through a role that fits you like a glove is a major factor why despite the amount of work, effort and at times complex challenges, I continue to say ‘Hell YES’ everyday.
Focus on where you want to go, not on what you fear.
What if it isn’t a hell yes?
Some jobs just pay the bills and sometimes we don’t get to choose between exciting options. When I was at university, my options were limited. It was worse before I was a student, but of course over time and with education, training and experience, our options multiply and things get more and more exciting.
If your current job isn’t a hell yes, then what is it to you? Is it a temporary role with the end in sight? Is it fun, rewarding but not challenging enough? Is it a drag and you hate leaving the house in the morning because you can’t stand doing the work or being around your colleagues?
Winter and especially the imminent arrival of the new year is a great time to reflect and to have a very honest hard look at your situation. Can you change it? (The answer is always yes by the way) Do you want to change it? What stops you from changing it?
Do you even want your jobs to be a hell yes? Some people don’t. Some people love whinging and complaining all day long about how unfair and hard the world is and how annoying and bad things are and get on everyone’s nerves with their negativity.
Sure, it’s not rainbows and unicorns and flowery dresses and puppies with wet noses every day. But don’t we all have the right to enjoy our life and live it to the fullest? Consider how incredibly complex and fascinating the human brain is, what humankind has achieved, look at the astonishing structured we have built, the progress we’ve made with regard to technology, science and the universe.
Do we really think that our days should consist of complaining about Sandra from accounting who took our favourite coffee mug and left lipstick stains on it and that Walter from IT is eating smelly tuna sandwiches again? Is that all life has to offer Monday to Friday from 9-5?
Making changes is scary and after moving countries three times and starting from scratch after every move, I feel qualified to have an opinion on this. Starting a new job can be hard and the uncertainty makes us anxious. We love structure and consistency and routines and why should we change when nothing is really broken.
But is ‘not broken’ really good enough? Do I want my tombstone inscription to read ‘yeah she did alright, her life wasn’t too bad’ or do I want people to say ‘she had an impact, she helped other people change their lives and she used up all her talents, energy and passion until there was nothing left to give at the end’.
If you change nothing nothing will change.
But what about…!
I hear this a lot too: But what about the mortgage? What about my pension fund? What about the kids?
When I was 28, I asked a friend to visit me in Australia and he declined saying that taking 3 months or more off from work would impact his pension fund. What the actual fuck? Seriously… 3 months or even 6 months don’t matter to the pension fund. A trip of a lifetime can change everything. Breaking out of our routines and our comfort zone can have a lasting impact, much greater than an extra $2 per month at the end of our life (if we make it that far).
Yes, there is a mortgage to pay or rent. And the bills and petrol for the car. But there is also a life to live and it’s probably the only one we get, at least in this shape and form.
It makes me quite sad to think about how many people just kind of exist day to day, doing their thing, not loving it, not hating it, just wandering through life and potentially arriving at the other end not really having lived the life they dreamed of.
And by the way: it doesn’t matter whether you like triathlon or knitting or reading or martial arts or Marvel superheroes, scrap booking, rock climbing, calligraphy or singing in a choir. What matters is to put your heart into it and enjoy it as much as you can.
I know someone in a dead-end job with a family that depend on him to bring home the money. He would love to do something different but with a new job comes a probation period and the risk of finding themselves unemployed for various reasons. So he suffers quietly and marches off to work, doesn’t enjoy it, sometimes really hates it, works a physical really hard job and over times makes it harder and harder for himself to make the change as the family reliance and financial pressures grow as the kids get older.
What about the kids? I have none, so feel free to ignore my thoughts on this, but I strongly believe that kids in general would rather have fewer toys and an older car to drive in if it means their parents can work jobs they enjoy more, spend more time at home being present instead of worrying about money and work.
‘What about the kids?’ actually gives children a lot of responsibility for a situation that they have no say in and they don’t even know what their parents go through for their benefit. Can we really place that much responsibility on their shoulders? And what would they say if they knew what was going on in the heads of their parents?
Shouldn’t we model the right choices and show them the ‘Hell YES’ so they don’t find themselves in similar situations?
Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.
You can’t always say ‘Hell No’
I know. Some things just happen to be ‘middle of the road’ kind of situations.
Take Brussels sprouts. I don’t hate them and I don’t like them. They’re just there and I don’t ever buy them. If someone makes them for me, I’ll eat them and enjoy them (hopefully) but the rest of the time they don’t exist for me.
The same goes for jobs, people, hobbies, etc. Some things just don’t fall on either side of the continuum. They’re not a whole-hearted Yes or No. And that’s perfectly okay, especially because many of those things are not directly in our control.
What I want to encourage you, though, is to think about the decisions you ARE making and to be more conscious of them to avoid the middle of the road stuff and head into ‘Hell YES’ territory.
It is okay to have fewer than 100 people on your Facebook Friends list. If you don’t talk to someone and you are not interested in what they’re doing because, in fact, you only spoke to them for 10 minutes at a cousin’s friend’s wedding, then why keep them around? The world will not end if you clean up your friends list.
It is okay to say no to invites if you’re not interested in going to an Indie Rock concert next weekend. It’s okay to tell your best friend from high school that you don’t want to open a gift store with her (yes, that’s one thing I said Hell No to). It’s also okay to tell a persistent shop owner that what they’re trying to sell you is really not what you want or need.
Being really honest will be very helpful with making decisions that resonate with you and your goals at a deeper level.
I haven’t mastered that myself yet but I make the effort to ask myself when something interesting comes along whether it will truly help me achieve my goals or bring me joy along the way. If it doesn’t, then I say no – even when it’s free chocolate.
You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.
(also a little reminder for myself)
What if you don’t know?
Yes, been there too. This year has been particularly challenging at times and saying no to something that was a yes for a long time was easily the hardest decision I ever made. And it took many months to gain the clarity and find the courage to do so.
I’m a very intuitive person and I learned over time (probably the last 25 years or so) that whenever I went against my gut-feeling, things turned out far from ideal. So I try to be mindful of that and really listen beyond the chatter that goes on in my head.
Some decisions and realisations take time, others take even longer. Making them can be hard, it can be heart-breaking, at least in the short-term and it can be difficult to see the bright light when we cover our eyes to shield them from it.
Saying ‘Hell YES’ to a new path or direction will usually pay off, I have found. And that will make the challenges and difficulties and doubts and worries all worthwhile.
There is no need to know with certainty what will be, but we shouldn’t forget to listen to and follow our hearts, especially when we’re in a situation that is far from a “Hell YES’.
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
So what now?
Tomorrow is Monday, the perfect day for a Hell YES. Lots of people start a diet on Mondays or re-commit to a gym routine or maybe they still need to do their 2016 tax return and tomorrow is the day they’re finally going to do that.
If you liked the last few minutes of reading, then give it a try tomorrow. With a lot of certainty there will be situations where you have to make a decision.
Make your breakfast a Hell YES. And ideally a Hell YES that will still feel good two hours later.
Tackle some work tasks or projects that are a Hell YES and commit to them and see how it changes your mood, attitude and productivity. Feel free to lose yourself in them and really experience the flow or being fully immersed in a topic or challenge. That’s a Hell YES if ever I saw one!
Say Hell YES to your relationships and act with purpose, authenticity and be present with and for those around you.
That’s probably enough for a Monday and I’m sure you get the idea :-).
My Hell YES for today will be to do a lot more writing, this time on paper and with a fountain pen and real ink. That’s what I really want to be doing right now.
I hope to hear about your Hell YES’s…
What good are wings without the courage to fly.