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Yes, No, Now: Three Simple Words Every Creative Must Know

Are you looking for a sign? Let this be it.

I’m terrible at telling jokes, but here goes.

Alex lived in a low, flat area near the coast. A storm dropped eight inches of rain over the course of two days and the dam could not hold the water.

Alex looked out of their window and watched as the street flooded. Alex remained calm, believing that they would be taken care of.

Their neighbor, seeing Alex look out the window, stopped their old Ford Windstar filled with children and a few precious belongings. “Alex, there’s room for one more. Come on.”

Alex waved their hand. “I’m fine. God will take care of me.”

The minivan drove away.

The water continued to rise, and Alex retreated to the second floor. They looked out the window as two men in a rowboat paddled past.

“We’re here to save you. Come on board.”

Alex shook their head. “No thanks. God will take care of me.”

The men frowned, shrugged their shoulders, and let the current pull them away.

The water now filled Alex’s house. They climbed out the attic window and perched on the roof of the house, hugging the chimney.

‘Wappa wappa wappa.’

A helicopter hovered overhead. An ensign in the Coast Guard called down with a bullhorn. “We’re here to save you. Climb into the basket.”

Alex clutched at their collar, grabbing the bricks of the chimney. “God will save me. I believe.”

The helicopter tipped its rotors and zoomed away.

The rain continued to fall. The water continued to rise. Alex succumbed to the floodwaters.

A moment later, Alex stared into the face of God. They frowned and cried, “God, I had faith. I believed in you. Why didn’t you save me?”

“I sent a minivan, a boat, and a helicopter. The rest was up to you. You made the choice not to be saved.”

Have you been waiting for a sign? Have you been waiting to start a new project? A new career? A new relationship?

These three words are your sign today. Yes. No. Now.

Say "Yes" to yourself.

All too often creatives and artists are our own worst critics. Ira Glass has a series of videos on this very topic. He said: “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple of years, you make stuff. It’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good. It has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. Many people never get past this phase; they quit.”

We stop before we ever get started. We tell ourselves that we’re not good enough. We don’t measure up. We say no before anyone can say "Yes."

But it’s easy to spout these words. It’s quite enough to straighten our shoulders and march forward.

Try this: If you were a coach, what would you say to a client who is floundering? You’d say, “Try it. Put yourself out there. See what happens.”

Coach yourself the way you would a paying client.

Learn to say "No."

We take on a new project at work or at home or for a friend or our family because then we have an excuse.

We tell ourselves the lie of “I just don’t have the time.”

We all have the same 24 hours every day. It’s all in how we spend those hours.

Creativity expert Todd Brison wrote, "The Answer Is No."

Todd writes, “Stop complaining about how much of your time is already spoken for and start figuring out a way to get it back.”

Start with the easy nos. No to binge-watching the latest baking show on Netflix. No to lunch with coworkers every day. No to obsessing on your limitations.

This is the sign you’ve been waiting for.

Take action now.

Kalidasa, the great Sanskrit poet, wrote:

Look to this day:
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course,
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of achievement
Are but experiences of time.

For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
And today, well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day;
Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!

It’s easy to say. It’s not easy to do.

Creatives have a vision. We have an idea. We see the wonders of our art.

And then, another idea darts into our view. And another and another and another.

Suddenly, like a colony of prolific rabbits, we’re overwhelmed with too many projects that exist in our minds. We may even begin. We purchase the supplies. The canvas. The paints. We sketch the scene and then we hesitate.

The only time we can do anything is now.

But you don’t have to read another book. You don’t have to pay the coach. You don’t have to enroll in another course or join another support group. Don’t wait until you’re too busy, too weak, too old.

There is no minivan, no rowboat, no helicopter.

But the floodwaters are rising.

Say “Yes” to yourself. Say “No” to your doubts. Take one tiny action now.

This is the sign. This is the sign you’ve been waiting for.

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