As a naturally curious person, I would define myself as being a yes person. Yes to trying new (vegan) foods! Yes to speed dating! Yes to world travel, and yes to joining the student council!
I’m all about yes, because yes invites love, opportunity, and growth.
Except when it doesn’t.
Here are the few occasions that made me grateful for no.
The time the McGill Faculty of Law said no to me
I had been putting off my law school applications for years. I had already earned two degrees – a Bachelor’s degree in Communications, and a Master’s degree in International Affairs. The logical (and sensible) follow-up to both of these arts degrees would be a Law degree, so I figured it was something I ought to do. Added to the mix were all the folks throughout my life who told me I’d be an “amazing” lawyer. I thought so too.
In October 2014, I finally put together a stellar law school application for September 2015. I worked on it tooth and nail, and by the time it was done, I felt like a shoo in. I also thought I’d enter my thirties with something I and everyone around me would be proud of – becoming a lawyer.
Then the months dragged past, and I thought…maybe I don’t really want to be a lawyer. Maybe I don’t have to be lawyer just to make a difference in this world. By the time April rolled around, I started to feel the gravitational pull of different, more alluring titles: digital entrepreneur. Traveller. Writer. Muse. By May, I put up my condo for rent and started to pray for rejection – fearing I wouldn’t be able to pass up the coveted opportunity to study law at McGill University.
Later that month, I received an e-mail from the McGill Faculty of Law alerting me that their final decision was posted in my online account.
I logged in to learn my fate.
(Or as I understood it):
I’d never been rejected from anything I really wanted in my life.
And yet, despite the word REJECTION blaring at me in big, black letters, I realised that it remained true.
I was overjoyed. I was free. I could do whatever I wanted – including pursuing my new dream of travelling the world.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
– I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
My mother, on the other hand, was quite upset. She wanted to find out why I was rejected. What made them say no? Why didn’t McGill think I was good enough for them?
It disappointed her when I told her I didn’t need to know. McGill and I both agreed that law school wasn’t the right path for me – not right now, and probably not ever. I’ve never looked back, and can’t imagine being in the midst of a third degree instead of the education I really needed – a curriculum that existed outside the confines of a classroom.
The time I said no to marriage
“April come she will
When streams are ripe and swelled with rain;
May, she will stay,
Resting in my arms again.”
A few years ago, I found myself engaged to a man I had spent seven years with. He was my best friend. To the outside world, there was absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t get married. Our families were tight, we were unbeatable at Taboo, and we could quote movies back to each other like no other couple.
But as we grew older, we cried as much as we laughed. Our values were polar opposite and as we neared our thirties, it became startlingly obvious that we had far more differences than similarities. When we eventually moved in together and got engaged, I wandered through wedding conventions in a daze, feeling out of place and unsettled. We had completely different visions of the future, and has hard as I tried, I couldn’t envision a future with him in it.
“June, she’ll change her tune,
In restless walks she’ll prowl the night”
When I first told my family about my ambivalence, I received no support. At that time, the only person nudging me towards “no” was a voice in my heart screaming at me to pull the plug on a relationship that had long been on life support.
“July, she will fly
And give no warning to her flight.”
So, I went ahead, shocked everybody and said no to my partner. I said no to my family, and the fulfillment of their dreams to see me married to a man they loved dearly.
“August, die she must,
The autumn winds blow chilly and cold;
September I’ll remember
A love once new has now grown old.” – April Come She Will, Simon and Garfunkel
And the little voice deep in my heart quieted down, and all that was left was a loving, grateful smile, and a soul aglow with memories of love to keep me warm on my life’s journey.
The time I said no to Concordia
I applied to the University of Ottawa’s Communication program on a whim. I fully expected to get accepted to a local university in Montreal, and hadn’t really planned to go through with attending an out-of-province university.
Sure enough, I was accepted to Concordia University, just like I thought I would be. I was also accepted to the University of Ottawa.
There was no real reason for me to attend U of O. I could have continued living at home, rent-free at my parents house, getting a degree at Concordia like most of my high school graduating class.
But something inside me knew it was wiser to leave Montreal. I knew I needed to break out of my comfort zone, and put an end to a hard partying phase that defined my late teens.
I can’t count the rewards that came along with this decision. It led me to form some of the most significant relationships in my life – among them, my best friend Micha; some of the finest career opportunities a young twenty-something could dream of; and, eventually, a continuation of my studies at Carleton, where I earned a Master’s degree in International Affairs.
What I once thought I’d try for a semester, turned into six priceless years I am eternally grateful for.
The time I said no to my parents when they told me not to go study in Hong Kong
This one ranks high in my books, because I could have easily faltered under pressure from my parents, my boyfriend, my friends, and the sheer lack of knowledge about Hong Kong when I decided to apply for an academic exchange program there back in ’07. Instead, I trusted that voice in my heart – and my good friend Zuza, who told me to “just go” – when I was selected as one of two students to attend the Chinese University of Hong Kong for a semester abroad.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page”
So, with a deep breath, I took a giant leap of faith – and landed in Hong Kong. In four months, I made friends from around the world, and travelled to Thailand, Vietnam, China, Macau and the Philippines. It was both the longest and shortest time of my life, and one brief semester brought me a lifetime’s worth of memories.
The time I said no to a 100,000$+ salaried position
Right after I signed a contract to teach in Korea for a year, I received a phone call on a Sunday morning at 9 am. I answered it groggily, slightly hungover from a friend’s wedding the night before.
The man calling was a person I had interviewed for several months earlier. Though I was only a novice player in the PR industry at the time, I managed to convince the CEO of one the fastest growing companies in Canada to hire me as their in-house PR director. After weeks of negotiating, we couldn’t agree on a salary. I ultimately turned down the offer, though we agreed to remain in contact should an opportunity come up with a suitable salary attached to it.
Well, that day had finally come. In spades.
The company had since grown and expanded at an incredible rate. I was now being offered a Sales Director position for the entire Eastern Division, along with a full year of training on the job. The salary offered was upwards of 100,000$ – double what I had initially requested.
Obviously, I was in a predicament. In addition to struggling with money as a contractor for years, I had also been struggling with the dissatisfaction of being a Jacqueline of All Trades instead of the focused career women I envied. The opportunity to upgrade my home, my car, my clothes and my lifestyle was equally tempting.
However, the position itself would require working in the beauty industry – an industry I had grown to despise – peddling products that served little purpose but to make women look prettier. I had been made equally aware by the company that my physical looks were an asset that came along with my qualifications.
I took a day to think about it, though I already knew what my answer would be.
The following day, I headed over to a friend’s house, took a big gulp of vodka, and respectfully declined the position via e-mail.
That day, I promised to pay myself a similar salary and by building my own business, in accordance with my own corporate values.
And I never looked back.
The time I said no to eating meat ever again
I used to make fun of vegetarians, call vegans pretentious morons, and eat handfuls of prosciutto for breakfast. Life was good – and it was pretty fuckin delicious.
Then I started hearing about a film called Earthlings. Ellen was talking about it, my friend Vince kept sending me video links through Facebook, and animal lovers kept harping about it on my Facebook newsfeed. I wasn’t interested.
One fateful afternoon in the era of the Earthlings craze, my sis came over to my place to watch it while I worked on my laptop nearby. The TV screen was out of view, so I didn’t have to watch it.
As it turns out, I didn’t need to watch it. I heard everything, and that was enough.
I resolved never to eat meat again.
But I still thought vegans were a bunch of morons.
Enter Vince. He sent me another video, and this time, I did take the time to watch it.
This video changed my life completely. I immediately converted to veganism. I also never heard the song Under Pressure the same way again (you’ll get what I mean if you watch the video).
I got rid of everything non-vegan in my household. I bought a crapload of vegan cookbooks, the best of all being, yes, The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone. This new lifestyle shift eventually culminated into switching from non-organic to organic, locally sourced food, more meals prepared at home, and increased exercise fuelled with the new energy I enjoyed from my plant-based diet. I felt better than I did in my entire life.
Now, because I’m human, I’ve teetered into chegan zone with dairy, eggs and fish over the years – especially after moving to Korea.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that around the time I increased my chegan habits, I became depressed, developed a severe surge in anxiety and a sharp increase in insomnia – not to mention unwelcome weight gain.
Not so surprisingly, I started to heal once I re-aligned my lifestyle, including cutting out my chegan tendencies and sticking to a strict vegan diet once again – even if it requires a four hour roundtrip journey to pick up pre-prepared vegan food at Sprout in Itaewon, Seoul.
For those who regard the vegan movement as “too extreme”, I’ll leave you with these wiser words from someone far wiser than I, as an unprecedented number of people have started to make the switch to a vegan diet:
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
Let’s hope that day comes sooner rather than later, not just for our benefit, but for the benefit of all earthlings.
The time I said no to continuing my career in the public service
I’ve experienced three significant bouts of depression in my life – the most recent being my experience living and working in South Korea.
I felt my first significant episode of depression once I graduated university, feeling totally uncertain about what to do next. My mother started calling me a “dangling man” after the novel written by Saul Bellow, lost and waiting for destiny, meaning and opportunity to show up. I eventually got back on my feet by reading the book Feeling Good by Dr. David D. Burns.
But only a few years later, depression once again reared its head when I was working as a public servant.
I had a salary many people my age would dream of. I held a position that was the envy of my graduate school peers who were still competing over unpaid internships, I was the pride of my parents and boyfriend, I had fancy bilingual business cards with braille impressions – and yet I was unhappy.
Then I received three signs.
The first sign came to me the first time I stepped into an acting class. After my first performance, something inside me whispered:
“Shit. This is what I should be doing.”
The second occurred when I read the following quote in a book called “Breaking into Acting for Dummies“:
“The only thing to fear is a boring life”.
I erased everything on my whiteboard and scrawled the quote in big, black letters.
The third came on a Starbucks cup, way back in ’09 when they had quotes written on them as part of a series called “The Way I See it”. The quote read:
“Failure’s hard, but success is far more dangerous. If you’re successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever.” – Po Bronson
I was floored. This quote encapsulated everything I was feeling. I looked up the author to see what books he had written, if any.
It turns out he had. One of them was called, “What Should I Do with my Life?”.
Shortly after I ordered the book off Amazon, I was offered an extension at the department I worked at. My boss was shocked when I returned to her a day later and said no. Most of my co-workers were further bewildered when I told them I didn’t think I wanted to work for the federal government at all, ever again.
So, armed with my books, my guiding quotes and a little faith, I packed my bags for Montreal to focus on acting for a full year. I never looked back on my way home, and haven’t looked back since.
The time I said no to finishing my 1 year ESL contract teaching in South Korea
This most recent no, and one whose path and consequences I have yet to discover, has made feel me happier, freer, and aligned with my own needs, in service of my higher purpose.
So you see, despite all these no’s, I really am still a yes person. And by saying no to some of the folks and opportunities that have come my way, I was saying yes to the most most important person of all – the captain of my soul, the master of my fate, the voice in my heart: myself.
The only question is, now that I’m free :
What comes next?
Thank you for reading, Share your thoughts below <3