All throughout Tampa and St. Petersburg this weekend, the streets are filled with pirates.
The Gasparilla Pirate Festival is a weekend of madness on the scale of Mardi Gras and Carnaval– an odd celebration of the pirate Jose Gaspar, Tampa shuts down as costumed revelers walk the parade or drink rum in the streets. Families, students, and everyone in between attends. Except for myself, after some considerable internal debate, I ended up coaching in the morning, studying in the afternoon, and floating in the evening. In fact, as I write this post, I could jump on facebook or instagram and find many of my fellow classmates enjoying the lovely weather, company, and costumes.
Of course, I’m intrigued by Gasparilla from an anthropological perspective: that many amateur pirates in such a densely packed area will lead to outstanding people watching. But, I’m no longer the undergrad that loves day-drinking: four years of college has aged my liver dramatically. Weighing my curiosity of the event against the widespread alcohol consumption culture, I decided to turn my soft ‘yes’ into a ‘no’.
I believe that your response to invitations should either be a ‘hell yes’ or a ‘no’. Anywhere in between does both you and your inviter a disservice: being at an event physically is different from being fully present. People want your full attention, they want your enthusiasm– they don’t want your zombie body while you stare at your phone waiting for a good time to bail. You don’t win, because you feel like you are wasting your time, and they don’t win, because they aren’t getting the person they invited. This decision-making heuristic guided me to the Gasparilla ‘no’: if I went, I’d probably feel a bit awkward and bail early without saying goodbye to anyone.
Most folks spend their adolescence learning how to say ‘yes’: yes to submitting a resume for that dream job in the big city, yes to asking that lovely classmate out for a coffee date, yes to putting yourself out into the world in order to try new and strange things. This stage of development is incredibly awkward, uncomfortable, and essential. Think of those loved-ones that can never really break out of their shell, that are unwilling to accept that moment of vulnerability for fear of rejection– the folks that miss out on saying ‘yes’.
As we transition from adolescence to adulthood, we need to learn how to say ‘no’. At this stage of life, we are generally approaching our careers, developing those longer term relationships that will span decades, not semesters, and our youthful teenage vigor seems to quietly leave our company. Lots of things to do, but not a whole lot of time to do them. Think of that friend who is a consummate people-pleaser, who always says yes and never turns down a requested favor. Consider that time you agreed to help an acquaintance in the far future, but when the phone call finally came, you quietly groaned and thought of ways to back out.
Learning how to say ‘yes’ is the process of putting yourself out into the world, being vulnerable, and obtaining skills and knowledge. Learning how to say ‘no’ is the process of utilizing those skills, finding how you can serve your people, and avoiding distractions. A ‘yes’ without the ‘no’ is a skilled pushover. A ‘no’ without the ‘yes’ is a dedicated hermit.
This represents the major point of friction in my life these days: I want to do too much, I want to try all the things. I want to drink and be merry with my friends and classmates. I want to learn some grappling with the USF judo club. I want to rock climb with the DPTs. I want to explore nature with close buddies. But I need time for myself and solo activities that recharge my batteries. There aren’t enough hours in a day for both and as a result compromises must be made. This is why ‘yes’ is no longer sufficient: if I go, I must be excited, energized, and saying ‘hell yes’.
Learning how to say ‘no’ has been painful. It has led to awkward situations where I hemmed and hawed instead of pulling the band-aid off at once. ‘No’ has led to incredible FOMO (fear of missing out) as well as fewer and fewer invitations. Learning how to say ‘no’ is a lot like learning how to ask someone out on a date: if you are smooth and confident, then you can get away with less than perfect delivery and wording, but if you make things awkward and avoid your true intention, then everyone loses. I’ve said ‘no’ to coaching opportunities, to friendships, to major life paths that will never be seen again. Despite that, ‘no’ buys me peace.
‘No’ means that I can be my true authentic and weird self without feeling the need to fit someone else’s mold. ‘No’ means that I stay away from the bars, because instead I enjoy nourishing and rejuvenating time with a small cadre of friends. ‘No’ means putting myself first, so that I can put my full attention towards the things that matter most in life, rather than the obligations that will not matter to me in five years.
‘Hell yes’ has helped me to cull the many opportunities in life down to the ones that will matter. ‘Hell yes’ means that I respect myself, my time, and the time of my friends enough to only do the most awesome things and to give 100% when I show up. There will always be next year for Gasparilla– it’s not going anywhere. I spend my time wisely because it’s the most valuable resource I have. ‘Hell yes’ is the winning lottery ticket. ‘No’ is keeping it a secret with only your close friends.