Alternate title for this post: “Fungyes”. You’ll get it in a second. If after reading this you’re still unsatisfied with the title, please provide your suggestions in the comments1. Make sure you read to the end to get the morel of the story. Again, you’ll get that in a sec.
I reconnected with an old friend recently. We’d been at the same concerts a couple of times, and had hung out once. Then I got a message asking if I wanted to go mushroom hunting. I didn’t pause to reflect on the fact that I historically do not enjoy eating mushrooms, or to see what the weather would be like, or to note that I had no idea how to hunt mushrooms. I just said “sure.”
I have a bad habit of saying yes to certain types of things. Projects that sound exciting, people that I’d be honored to work with, anything that sounds profitable, whether monetarily or emotionally. Lately I’ve subscribed to the idea that saying “yes” to something means saying “no” to something else. That’s not my idea, I’ve picked it up from “productivity folks” because it makes a lot of sense.
There are plenty of things I habitually say no to, though. Going to concerts. Folding laundry. Hosting parties. Hosting children. Having children. Going deep off trail to hunt for fungus I don’t want. I guess the theme would be “things that seem mildly inconvenient or may end badly.” But lately “yes” has seemed like the more interesting option in many cases.
At first it wasn’t at all intentional. I’d already started changing my life and habits, losing weight, being active, being more social. I found that once in a while an opportunity would present itself and without going through my usual thought process (“well, here’s how that could go wrong,” or “here’s a list of things that would be less likely to suck”), I just started saying “yes.” Yes, I’ll go to that show with you. Yes, I’d love to have that couple over for dinner. Yes, I’ll hold your baby for a minute.
So when my friend suggested a mushroom hunt, and I jumped in without question, I found myself actually looking forward to it. I even started wondering if I still hated mushrooms. It turned out that the hiking and searching and walking and talking were great fun. The hours flew by. We didn’t find the morels we were ostensibly looking for, but I learned what Pheasant Back Mushrooms (Dryad’s Saddle) are and how to cook them. And that I liked them. I got caught up with a friend I’d become disconnected from and realized I should have stayed in touch. With a lot of people.
These experiences I’ve said yes to have, overall, turned out to be enjoyable. Sure, sometimes things went wrong in exactly the way I would have imagined they’d go wrong if I’d stopped to worry about it. Sometimes, such as in the case of holding a baby, things turned out just fine (thankfully for all involved). Sometimes they were experiences I would later realize I would regret not having been a part of. Even when they turned out poorly, though, it wasn’t as big a deal. I didn’t leave thinking “I TOLD YOU SO, I NEVER SHOULD HAVE COME.” I just thought “bummer.” I used to think that having low expectations would increase the likelihood that things seemed better when they were just mediocre, but it really doesn’t.
Having high expectations makes things more exciting from the start. You’re not waiting for good things to just happen to you. You’re being a part of things. You’re sharing everyone’s excitement. Whether it’s waiting for a band to take the stage or meeting a friend for coffee, or even learning a new programming language, being interested in things turning out well has a substantial effect on whether things will turn out well. Or at least whether you’ll enjoy them turning out well. Disappointment when they don’t is a small price to pay for actually having been present, having taken the chance at making something great.
I’ve always been an optimist in many areas. Social situations and unusual endeavors have not generally been among them. But I’m not the grumpy old man I was a year or two ago. I’m still working on saying no at the right times, but getting better at saying yes to potentially uncomfortable yet enriching things.
So that’s my rant. I don’t read articles like this. I have to assume that none of this is a surprising new concept to anyone but me, and that there’s probably a section of every bookstore that I’ve instinctively avoided full of tomes on this topic. That’s fine, I’m a tactile learner. I’ll just keep taking notes on my mistakes and successes until I have it all figured out and/or die. Whichever happens first.
Let me clearly state that I will not be changing the title of this post. I just want to give you an outlet for your frustration and/or comedy genius.↩