The word ‘yes’ is energising and has a metaphysical relationship tied to movement and energy. In comparison, ‘no’ denotes inertia, motionless, and fixedness.

Yet we say no more often than we say yes when it comes to opportunities and self-growth. Now, the above sounds like something you’d find in a GCSE English Literature exam, but no it’s something I feel is true and holds us back from following our true life goals and becoming better individuals.

We have this ability to constantly say yes, agree to new opportunities, walk through new doors, and each time we do something, even if it’s a perceived failure or mistake, we’re always going to learn something. In fact, we’ll probably learn more if we fail. So, it’s key to break down this fear of failure and start saying ‘yes’ to things that we know will enrich us, whichever way it goes.

Ultimately, the more we say ‘yes’, the better placed we are to make more decisions about how to best spend our time in the future. Two particular concepts come into mind when trying to reason why we should say yes: the comparison between growth vs. fixed mindsets and the flywheel effect.

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

One of my favourite readings comes from Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, a masterpiece in which she breaks down the power of mindset shift in different walks of life whether it be academia, business, career, or personal relationships. As she describes:

This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

People with a fixed mindset usually behave as they already know everything there is to know about a particular subject. Whereas people with a growth mindset always strive to learn more. Adopting a growth mindset lets us try something new and then decide whether it fits us or not at a later point. Carol Dweck later adds:

“Becoming is better than being.” The fixed mindset does not allow people the luxury of becoming. They have to already be.

If we can master this particular notion into our thought process when faced with new opportunities and possibilities then we will naturally seek growth. By saying yes, we typically adopt a growth mindset, leading with our curiosity.

The Flywheel Effect

A phenomenon that is widely spoken about in productivity terms but one that brings valuable lessons and links to the power of saying ‘yes’.

The Flywheel effect is a concept developed in the book Good to Great. No matter how dramatic the end result, good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. In building a great company or successful career, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond. (Great read - full post)

The link here between saying YES and that of the flywheel effect is that the more often we say yes to opportunities, the more we are adding momentum to the flywheel and this flywheel could be our career aspirations, personal growth goals, or even life dreams one may initially consider impossible.

Eventually, there will be a breakthrough point once we have said ‘yes’ to enough opportunities to a place in which you have either achieved your career or personal growth goals. But the most pertinent point here is to not stop, linking back to the idea of a growth mindset. If we stop once we’ve achieved our goals, then we return to a fixed mindset. Our skills eventually become outdated, life outpaces us and boom back to square one. Start by saying ‘yes’, but keep at it when the momentum kicks in.

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” - Albert Einstein

Putting it into perspective

For an outsider, a career in Medicine may seem fruitful in its career flexibility and ability to specialise in whatever the heart may desire - surgery, internal medicine, general practice or even non-clinical roles in public health and research. But in reality, it isn’t like this. Particularly, as a medical student, you have little to no choice in your learning (somewhat fair given the nature of the role we go into post-degree) but this can be very restrictive.

Here’s a very typical medical career: Go to medical school, attain several extracurricular roles whilst at medical school, do a bunch of research. Graduate. Become a junior doctor in the NHS, continue research/auditing projects on the side so that you can apply to competitive speciality training programmes. Become a consultant/surgeon/GP. Split your time between clinical roles, research projects, management time, and other (err private practice lol) activities.

Here’s what I want: Graduate. Enjoy what I love doing that is medicine but not let it consume me. Establish an unconventional portfolio career where in which only part of my time is dedicated to patient care and the rest in other activities I enjoy doing. These include a wide number of possibilities: startup, creative/design roles, management consultancy (health sector), advisory roles in big pharma, public health, and policy, etc. I haven’t quite decided what exactly yet, and that’s fine - I’m 22.

Do you see the problem?

Following the conventional path set out for us doesn’t always lead to the lifestyle we desire or aim to allow us to accomplish our greatest ambitions. We have to seek opportunities for ourselves and every time one presents itself - we must say ‘yes’ (within reason) even if ultimately it will lead to failure in that particular opportunity (we’ll have still learnt something in the process).

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” - Maya Angelou

Here’s how saying YES has benefited me:

  1. Built confidence - came out of my comfort zone time and time again.
  2. Learnt new skills and now have broader options going forwards.
  3. Learnt what works for me and what doesn't (role/career-wise).
  4. Met exciting new people, mentors, and life connections.
  5. Led to further opportunities (fuelling the flywheel effect).

I’ll end by saying this:

Often we reject opportunities that can have a life-changing effect. We succumb to our fears and insecurities thereby following a path of comfort instead. Instead of fixating on these disempowering states, put yourself out there and get stuck in!