By Rebecca Weiss
As a writer, I’ve never liked clichés much, but there are a few that ring true to me as I get older, and one of them is “Coming from a place of Yes.” This really is a meaningful phrase for me now that I am a breast cancer survivor.
Because, as I can see now, I’ve spent most of my life coming from a place of “No.”
Growing up I was chubby and at times awkward, a kid who loved playing basketball but got embarrassed by my hot, red “sweaty tomato” face. Interested in the dramatic arts, but mostly relegated to the set crew. I often saw the world in terms of what was for me and what wasn’t. Eying girls in Seventeen Magazine who were waifish with long straight hair and perfect skin, I got used to thinking, “No, that’s not me.” “No” became my default setting after a while. No, I’m not pretty enough for the lead in the play. No, I’m not smart enough to join the debate team. No, I’m not popular enough to get elected to student government.
And, this thinking stayed with me as I went through adolescence and young adulthood. No, I wasn’t polished enough to land the job I really wanted. No, I wasn’t worth a second date. No, I wasn’t going to get a raise. And so on. This kind of thinking invaded my life to the extent that over time I began to experience a lot of anxiety. Among other things, I was a pretty bad hypochondriac, and I think that had a direct impact on my health because I became so used to combatting my panicked thoughts about my health that when I felt a lump in my right breast I told myself I was imagining it and put off seeing a doctor for much longer than I care to think about now.
I spent many years watching my friends and co-workers rise through the ranks, start their own businesses, go to grad school and travel overseas while I convinced myself that I wasn’t going to get anywhere—in my career or in the world and I even developed a fear of flying. On a smaller scale, I would watch people dance at a wedding or sing karaoke and sit it out worried about looking silly on the dance floor or my not-so-great singing voice. I might have thought I had a long life ahead of me back then, but I wasn’t really living. I often saw my life as a waiting game. Waiting for things to change. Waiting until I lost weight. Waiting until my boss finally appreciated me. And, then, in May of 2014 at the age of 43 I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.
At first my anxiety took over, and I breathlessly and sleeplessly navigated through the dark fear of losing my life—of leaving my husband and children without me for the rest of their lives, of breaking the hearts of my parents and other loved ones. But, once I got into treatment and stared down the true risk of not making it through, I found my fighting spirit. I faced a hairless, breastless, potentially futureless me, and something shifted. It was gradual, but it was significant. Here’s what happened: I started to see the things I was afraid of before, the things I was so quick to say “no” to, as, just perhaps, being FOR me.
The only no’s I hung on to were related to giving up. No, I’m not going to go down without a fight. No, I’m not going to stop doing the activities I enjoy. No, I will not become a victim. And then, I decided to experiment with “yes.” I sought out what it would feel like to get on the dance floor at the weddings and bar mitzvahs I was invited to. I started interviewing for jobs at organizations and in fields I had always wanted to work. I took the honeymoon trip to London my husband and I were going to take in 2002 but put off. In short, I began to say yes to things big and small that I finally realized I wasn’t going to do if I lived my life waiting. Yes, I realize that’s another cliché. “What are you waiting for?” but, seriously, what was I waiting for?
Here’s what my life is like now that I’ve learned to say yes: I am famous—infamous perhaps—
for my crazy moves on the dance floor. I have a go-to karaoke song that I sing loud and proud despite my near tone-deafness. I’ve been to London—and Utah and Alaska—in just the past two years. I left a job I’d held for 12 years to pursue my dream of working in public radio. And, now the only downside is that I love my life so much I’m afraid to lose it. Yes, I want to be there for my kids and I want to make my parents and friends proud, but mostly I want to continue challenging myself and finding the joy that I never allowed myself before.
There’s room for you—for everyone—here at yes. But, there’s no waiting. Bring your dance moves, your favorite 80s rock song, and your travel itinerary. Then, let me know what you’re saying yes to now.