The Year of Yes

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should

Year of Yes-1

It was almost one year ago today that I pulled my hatchback into the driveway of my new home in California (affectionately referred to as The Pony Farm) for the first time. When I moved here I had barely an idea of where we were living, I had a business that needed to be rebuilt on a new coast, a part-time job with APW, and a few friends that I’d made, ahem, on the internet. For the first time in a long time, life was open and undetermined and new.

And the best part was that this was going to be the year that I was finally free from my cubicle. I would be liberated from bureaucracy and rules and people who told me no. Granted, it was also a little bit scary. All that freedom mostly came with the realization that I didn’t have much on my plate. I hadn’t booked any California weddings yet and working for APW was something that took up just a small part of my time. I tingled with the same nervous excitement and anticipation I felt those first few weeks after graduating college, except this time my fate wasn’t in the hands of grumpy entertainment industry executives.

The kind of freedom I experienced in those first few months was a little like being a kid at a buffet. I didn’t have to make a choice about what I wanted to do next, because I had endless possibilities right in front of me! So like any gluttonous young’n, I decide that I was going to try to have it all. Yes, I really ought to know better by now. But to be honest, it was really exciting. The first few things I poured my heart into (setting up Hart & Sol West and helping Meg get her book tour sponsored by Amtrak) paid off in ways that I had never even dared to imagine. (I got to ride a midnight train to Georgia! I was going to travel for photography! Life goals accomplished!) And it wasn’t long before I wanted more. So each time a project wrapped or a wedding was booked (or frankly, most of the time before the ink was even dry on a current project) I was there, looking for my next opportunity.

The problem was, once I started I Just. Never. Stopped.

Maybe it’s because I graduated into the recession, or because I’ve always had to bust ass to get ahead professionally, but I became kind of addicted to hearing the word yes. This year was the first time in my professional life that I didn’t feel like I was being held back by the man, or by gender politics, or by bullshit office policies, and dammit, I wasn’t about to let that go. (It reminds me a bit of hoarding, but with opportunities. I was afraid if I didn’t take everything that came my way, I’d suddenly be without any opportunities. Which I think might be characteristic of those of us who have tried to find jobs in the recession.)

So as my working hours slowly increased and the time spent between Michael and myself diminished to about half an hour each night (on a good night), I told myself this was normal. Michael and I had even spent the first few of our married years with me working extra long hours, often leaving the house a 7AM and coming home between 9 and 11PM, so this was technically par for the course. And no matter how much my friends or colleagues protested (or how many times Meg warned me about burnout and tried to send me on vacation so that I’d be forced to take a break) I kept coming back with, “It’s fine. I can do this. I just have to make it through the next (insert number here) of weeks and I’ll be fine.”

Which of course, turned into about six months of nonstop go.

The problem was, in years past when I’d put myself in almost the exact same situation (old habits die hard, y’all), Michael and I were working in offices. So when we didn’t see each other for a few days, or if one of us worked late all week and the dishes piled up, it somehow felt normal. Maybe even a little inevitable. (This is what two worker bees in their mid-twenties looks like, right?) But with me working from home this year, I was suddenly faced with the reality of what I was missing. I mean, it’s hard not to miss your partner when there’s only a wall separating you, instead of state lines and a two-hour commute. But worse than that, I found myself constantly telling Michael “No.” No, I can’t go out to dinner tonight, I have to finish this project nobody asked me to do. No, I’d rather not go see a movie later because then I’ll have to make up for lost time by working extra late, and I just want to go to sleep. No, I haven’t gone grocery shopping in a month, can’t you see how busy I am?

At first, it was okay. Mostly because Michael had our roommate to keep him company (read: play Star Wars). But then our roommate went home for two months. And as the dishes piled way up, and I started climbing into bed at 3AM instead of midnight, and eventually became so tired that I was “emotionally volatile” (Michael’s words, not mine. But he may have had a point). It became clear that the ill-constructed foundation of our relationship was crumbling beneath us. And that in all that “Yes” I’d been hoarding (not just this year, but for the entirety of our relationship if I’m being honest. In high school I once skipped Michael’s birthday so that I could work backstage at a Def Leppard concert. Did I mention old habits die hard?) the side effect was that I was effectively saying “No” to my marriage.

I guess you could say that this is the year I learned the importance of a work-life balance. But I actually think I achieved something deeper. I’ve written before about my fears and insecurities regarding marriage. It’s not that I don’t trust the institution, it’s just that I don’t like to put all my happiness eggs in one basket. But what I hadn’t realized was that by spreading myself so thin, I was keeping my marriage at arm’s length. And instead of protecting me, it was hurting me. It was hurting us. Because you know what? You can’t really enjoy the company of a committed partner if you’re keeping them at arm’s length (or making them sleep alone while you stay up late on the computer, ahem). And Michael? Well, he deserves better. Because without him here reminding me that I am worth more than my accomplishments, I might have actually run myself straight into the ground.

The thing is, I don’t want to seem ungrateful for this year. 2012 has been by far the most rewarding year of my professional life thus far (certainly including everything you guys made possible for me). It’s actually kind of crazy to think of everything that happened: I got to go on a book tour, I shot weddings in seven states (plus Puerto Rico!), co-hosted a photography workshop, coordinated and photographed the whole P&G beauty series, and was promoted to Managing Editor of this amazing site. The entire time it felt like I was like floating on a cloud of affirmation. But. It was also exhausting. And I saw this side of four o’clock in the morning a few too many times for it to be good for my health (or Michael’s sanity.) Plus, at the end of the day, no matter how many successes I saw professionally, I was utterly failing at being a good partner. And we all know how well I deal with failure. So in 2013, I think I may experiment a bit with telling myself “no,” and perhaps working on accepting the fact that just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I should.

Even if I really, really, really, really, really want to.

Photo: Michael and I goofing around during a rare day off at a friend’s house, by APW’s own copy editor, Kate

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  • I really have needed to hear this lately.

    • Me too. Really really. There so many things to finish by end of year, and so much potential for next year projects.

      This is also very affirming to my decision not to go after the business internship. As amazing as it would have been to work with you all, (and as much as I would have rocked it!) I have way too much going on already.

  • Laura

    Good words to live by. I definitely know what you mean about graduating in a recession. I’m a little scared of next semester (my last semester) just because I have committed to so much: full time school, part time job, practicum, volunteer project, student committee, searching for a job, AND planning a wedding (oh, and somewhere in there, spending time with my fiancé). I will do my best to remember that I will only live once and what I want to remember most is time spent with my FH.

    • Cass

      Hang in there! I’m in the same boat with graduating the spring, 3 massive community based research projects to finish, volunteering, looking for work, and wedding planning. In no short order, I graduate in April, get married in May, convocate then move across the country in June so my fiance can find work in his field. Going to be a rough but joyful road, but hang in there and you can do it!

    • I recently came through a period very similar to what you’re going through. I got SUPER-EFFICIENT for a while. It all turned out okay- wonderful actually. But please, oh please, take time when it’s finished to stop, unwind and let yourself relax for a week or two! You might need it more than you realize when you’re through it all.

      • I just survived a similar semester: writing a thesis, applying for fellowships, preparing a paper for publication, and planning a wedding all at the same time. It will be crazy and hard at times. As someone with an anxiety disorder, I spent much of the time feeling like I was losing my mind. But you will get through. One of the most helpful things to remember for me was that this is temporary. Life will be crazy until “X” date, but after that you can breathe. Also, delegate, delegate, delegate. People love you, they want to help you, and lots of help makes things a little less crazy. I’m three weeks away from my wedding now, done with school, and things are finally reaching the zen stage. I wish you all the best!

        • Laura

          Thank you, ladies! Those were such nice messages to find! Good advice from all!

    • Amber

      Same boat. Just turned in my topic proposal for my master’s project yesterday. Whew! Working part time, doing an internship, graduate in June, planning our wedding for August. Dealing with the pretty good possibility of my fiancé and I moving in with our parents this spring (me with mine and he with his, while I finish up my degree) so that we can save some money on rent, etc. Not looking forward to the long distance again. Been there, done that! But, it feels like the responsible and mature thing to do, even though it will be hard. It’s definitely tough finding a balance, but it is so important! And, I have to keep reminding myself these are all good things that I’m doing, and all the hectic, crazy wont last forever. Deep breathes.

  • Katrina

    This was that kind of post that hits the nail on the head! I spend a lot of time at work, but I don’t mind when my husband goes out to unwind with his friends. The funny thing is that he just said to me last night that he wished I could unwind, too, and that’s when I realized I’ve let myself get sucked into work without giving myself a chance to go out and live! When I’m off work, I just stay home, mostly because I never feel like going out, and because I have a lot of wedding planning left to do! All excuses aside, it’s time to live in the now. It’s time to say yes to Life when it knocks at the door! Thank you for this post Maddie, it was very insightful! (And BTW, WHERE did you get that dress? So adorable!)

  • This is where I am. I’ve been doing reverb12 this month and again and again in my writing the need for balance comes up. I’ve got to get this work thing under control (or say screw the work thing when the work thing gets to be too much) and spend more time cultivating my marriage to this really amazing in every way guy (who, knowing I’d had a crappy couple of days at work researched awesome local Christmas displays and took me for a drive last night. Because he knew it would make me smile)…and my health.

    Fortunately, my new boss is feeling the same way. That there has to be some balance. As soon as we make it through this hell, we’re going to figure out how to get there. Because there’s so much more to life than this.

  • BB

    This post was so insightful for me. I too am a “yes” person to activities, and professional development, and studying, and work, (even chores!), etc., but I didn’t even realize that all of the things I say “yes” to often lead me to say “no” to something my fiance suggests. I am now thinking that maybe a good New Year’s resolution would be for me to balance my “yes’s” and “no’s” in all aspects of my life, perhaps leaning more heavily on saying “yes” to my partner, because truly, he is the reason why I am able to make it through all of those other things I say “yes” to. I think I will read this post a few more times today because it gave me so much to think about. Thank you!

  • Another Meg

    Graduating in the recession apparently can make you job-crazy. I’ve had at least two jobs for years, just because what if I lose my full-time job? It’s really hard not to hoard all of the jobs, even when you never get to have fun. Ugh.
    Insightful as always.

  • Moe

    Without taking away one single bit of high-five, thumbs-up,round of applause for getting your hustle on this year….where did you get that kick-ass dress you’re pictured wearing?

    • Maddie

      Target! They had an AMAZING collection this summer (well, mostly full of leopard print and florals, so amazing time a thousand in my book). I think you can still buy this one in some stores!

  • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

    Sweat pants for Christmas! I like this plan.

  • katy

    Ha. Hoarding all the opportunities. That’s totally me right now, a job, yes please! A special internship at that job that makes me do new things every few weeks and do lots of training, yes please! Part time evening graduate school, yes please! And now here I am taking an incomplete in my class, seeing a therapist for depression and just trying to make sure I cover my basic needs like sleep and food. 2013 will be the year of balance for me too. I think we talked about this success thing on here before, and I know I’m trying to prove to my 16 year old self that I can be successful and have a career and a masters degree, but oh God I am still just as bad at handling stress and figuring out that balance as when I was 16.

  • Another recession-graduate fist-bump. I’d really like to get to a place where I imagine the work I want to do, then I find a way to get paid for it. I think I’m getting closer, but I’m really not a patient person. Instead, whenever I see a “now hiring” sign, I seriously consider whether I would like to work there.

    And as a former success kid (on a much smaller scale), thanks for the insight into choosing what’s right for you, not just what fits the perfect plan. That’s been a tough one for me.

    • Serious recession grad fist bump.

      Getting my first industry experience as an unpaid intern at a high-end photo studio 1 month after the market crashed is a huge part of my “never say no” complex. I interned for free for 5 months, went back to school, came back to NYC to intern for free at a different place over my christmas break, went back to school, and took a full time job with the people who’d hired me for internship 2 that would start 2 days after graduation. From there, I’ve taken whatever came my way, and seen how little security this industry actually offers. Seeing that made me desperate to find ways to support myself financially without relying on employment in an industry where you could literally be employed at a nice fat rate at the beginning of the day and totally destitute by lunch with absolutely no warning.

      My husband saw many of the same things while he worked his way through various advertising/media companies and had the same revelations, so we are a team of people terrified that if we stop moving, the ground could collapse beneath us.

      It’s good in some ways, (he wrote 14 comic books in the last year, 4 of which are already published! I went back to school while working full time and learned cinematography! Then, I learned illustrator and taught myself how to letter comic books!), but really not great for our well-being or our relationships.

      Thanks for the reminder that saying “yes” to the people who love and support you is seriously important.

  • LaLa

    Very good post! I think it’s human nature to assume that our partner is the one person we can say “no” to in a sea of people we say “yes” to. My husband and I are currently long distance and he was going through a lot of family drama, which caused him to say “yes” a lot to various family members in order to maintain the peace, hence I became the person he could say “no” to without worry. On top of that, he was also constantly saying yes to take on more and more projects which ate up even more of his time. Being supportive and understanding became harder to do as more time went on until I finally I exploded over the phone and we worked together to balance everything out.

    Your post struck me because it essentially was “his side” to the story, so thank you.

  • Karen

    I am a social person and my partner is not. After too much time spent with other people, she put her foot down and now insists on “no-plan weekends” (meaning no plans with other people). We might run errands, go to a movie, whatever but the key is that it’s not planned ahead of time. No plan weekends are now something we both look forward to. It reminds us both how much we really enjoy just being together. I highly recommend it as a sanity saver and a relationship energizer.

    • Another Meg

      We do this, too. Except it’s too difficult to get a whole weekend, but no-plan Saturdays or Sundays help keep us strong and sane.

    • One More Sara

      We haven’t ever made an effort to schedule those days or weekends, but accidentally had one for the first time in months this past Sunday. It. was. AWESOME. such a good reminder that during busy times you really need to schedule downtime.

      • Karen

        Yep, if it’s not scheduled it doesn’t happen. And I agree that if it ends up being only day that’s better than nothing. Scheduling time together shows that time together is a priority. And besides — it’s fun!

    • We do that too! So smart. ;-)

      We have a general “no plans on Friday, especially without each other” rule which we follow 90% or more of the time. He’s a secular Jew, so I guess it’s our version of family Seder.

  • I am on the other side of this. After having lived through my fiance’s med school and internship, I was looking forward to the next two years when he’ll have a job with fairly regular hours (when not deployed) so we could spend time together and he’d have time and energy when we are (hopefully) having babies. Except having regular hours looks to him like a good time to do a Masters of Public Health. I wish he saw all that free time the same way I do, but that’s not who he is. Not that he doesn’t want to spend time with me, just that he has a need to always be pushing himself and achieving more professionally. Whereas I want to do my very best work at a job I love and then come home at a reasonable hour and put my energy into my personal life. His saying yes to work and achievement has often looked like saying no to me, which is something we’ve really had to work on. I don’t want him to resent me for costing him opportunities, but I don’t want to resent him for choosing work over me and especially our kids once we have them. I think it’s going to be a recurring issue for us.

    • emma

      I’m also on the “other side”. My husband works incredibly hard and travels extensively for his job. I’m proud of him and understand his long crazy hours, but I would kill for a weekend spent with him having fun. Instead, I see any time spent with him a “bonus”, which sounds pathetic but it’s the way I no longer get disappointed when things come up and he’s no longer free. He’s also usually so exhausted from his job he’s not 100% himself. I love the couch but I would kill for him to plan a date. While we’re not ready for kids yet (read: I’m not ready for kids yet) it’s going to be really, really hard as 75% of the burden will be on me based on his schedule. It’s a hard thing to swallow.

      My other tension is I feel like Maddie – I have so much I want to give career wise and am still pushing for my “break”. While I’m not totally under employed I’m not happy in my current position. My husband is incredibly passionate about his job (it’s his dream job) and I wish I could feel the same about mine. It’s a difficult place to be in, but keeping faith is my current motto.

      • I’m not quite as badly off, but I feel a lot of this.
        My wonderful husband LOVES his job. He has definite career aims, and is working hard towards them.
        Sometimes this means being away for a week to attend a training. Sometimes its spending weeks on end studying at the kitchen table after work.
        At the moment, its hours of overtime.

        Whats hardest for me is that I havent found my “niche” yet. I dont fully know what I want to do, and the one thing I thought I want to do would put us at a financial disadvantage (taking 3 years out of the workforce to retrain will do that), plus put our new addition (due March) into full-time care for three years from about 10 months old, before then requiring me most likely to work shifts on rotating rosters. it has so many disadvantages, I’ve talked myself out of it.

        And now I feel rudderless again. And with the economy the way it is, and a baby on the way, I cant find any work to keep me occupied till then either! (which makes the overtime even harder on me). I, too, have to keep reminding myself there is a long view in all this. And perhaps one day I’ll figure out what it is I really wanted to do.

        • As a “niche-less” person myself, I’d recommend volunteering if you can find an organization that seems interesting to you in a career-sense. I’ve been able to do that in the past year and a half, and while I don’t have a solid niche yet, I’ve been able to take a better look at what I DON’T want to do, especially in terms of the types of organizations/institutions that don’t fit my style.

          Best of luck!

    • Maddie

      It’s really interesting for me to hear the other side comments. It reminds me not to take it for granted that Michael just accepts that this is the way I am and that I have to make a conscious effort not to fall into the habit of putting him on the back burner. The thing is, he’s just like you guys. Super proud of me. Loves me for my ambition. But I know he’d also like to not spend his weeknights alone on the couch. And I mean, who WOULD?

      The funny thing is (and possibly the great hypocrisy) if Michael were like me, I’d put up a HUGE stink about him not being home enough. So, yeah, I need to work on a little less ambition, a little more empathy.

    • My husband and I have very similar struggles – he is such a “do-er” he always has huge projects he’s tackling. When we met, he was playing in two bands, producing his band’s first album, holding down a full time job (with tons of overtime) as a designer at an architecture firm, and rocking a really active social life. He barely slept. His ambition and exciting lifestyle are part of the reason I love him so much, but it’s also the only thing that gave me pause when he asked me to marry him.
      He started grad school 3 days after our wedding (not something we planned), and his first semester (which he has just finished) has tested us in every way possible. I think that from either side of this argument, it’s almost impossible to see where the line that indicates “balance” lies. I’ll always want more time with him, and he’ll always want/need to spend more time on his ambitions. Part of me is delighted that his absence has forced me to grow as an individual since our wedding, but part of me mourns the sense of “team” that I thought we’d enjoy as a couple.
      It’s hard to be married to such a high achiever, but I love being able to support him. It’s helpful for both of us to consistently (usually driven by me) re-visit the values we want for our marriage, and to remind ourselves how much better we function when we make time for quality together-time.

  • Wow, thank you for sharing. I really needed to hear this too. It’s something I’ve been struggling with and trying to conquer recently too. I still haven’t figured it out. But i know that I began to hate the hours I spent at my computer, working hard on “really important things” without ever feeling like I was getting closer to the end goal.

    Owning your business is like standing on the beach with a glass and trying to drink the ocean. There’s no end to it. You can go and go for as long as you like and the ocean will always still be there. It’s hard to pace yourself. But I’m trying every day to match my pace to the pace of my marriage so that there is time to celebrate the milestones with the guy who keeps me going.

    Well-timed post. And I hope we can all take some time to slow down and celebrate with family & loved ones over the holidays!

  • Audrey

    As someone who is at root fairly lazy this is a fascinating look at the other side. A good thing to remember when I’m wishing I had more “drive” and felt up to taking on more projects and things in addition to my career/job.

  • Claire

    Love your writing and your message. Great insights.

  • Liz

    Next time you’re back East, I demand a coffeedate. (Maybe not coffee. Maybe we should steer away from caffeine, you and I/?)

    I’ve had that same kind of year, and honestly. I’m exhausted. And I’m ready for some “no.” I give myself a bit of a pass because J is working just as hard (harder, let’s be fair here), but it’s not okay. I need some married time (not an innuendo!), and some child-time, and heck, I need to snuggle my cat.

  • Are you reading my mind?! I’m literally in the process of writing a blog post for tomorrow titled “The Power of No”… AH! hahah. Awesome.

    • Maddie

      Christy, this post was actually inspired by something you wrote a few weeks ago! Something about how no matter how many date night pics you post on Instagram, you were still cheating yourself out of quality time with J. And then it hit me, I was like, “OH! You have to MAKE it happen. DUH.”

      So thanks for keeping me in check. You didn’t even know it, I bet. :)

      • OH! AWESOME! I’m so glad it had a good effect on some people! :) I’m really terrible about this – as I’m sure most people who work for themselves are. You clearly love what you do and so it can be hard to say no or take a moment away without feeling guilty…. something that is always a challenge! I’m glad I’m not the only one! ;)

  • SJG

    That picture at the top of this post? I die. You guys are adorable.

    And Maddie – I’m so glad that you’ve taken the helm, so to speak, while Meg is away on maternity leave – I feel like I’ve gotten to know you better :)

    Thank you for this little insight into your life this past year – I’m so excited about your success, and even more excited about the reflection you’ve had for how you want to start anew in the new year. Sending blessings to you and yours!

  • Mrs S

    Ah, subject matter near and dear to my heart… and the bane of my long suffering husband’s existence…

    I have been living the “yes” life since I finished law school. Like many others my age I am a product of the GFC – watching so many friends lose their jobs during the GFC has made us slightly obsessed with being invaluable.

    My boss had this bit of advice for those of us who still work for “the man”: At the end of each day (a reasonable day, not a 2am day, a day which will allow you to get home and see your partner whilst the sun is shining) put whatever else is “urgent” into a take home pack. Go home. Have dinner. Snuggle with your significant other. Play with the dogs. Then, when you’ve done all of that, open your pack of “urgent” tasks. You will be surprised how many tasks no longer seem “urgent” when you’re snuggled up on the couch watching telly!

    • LaLa

      That is actually a really great idea! I’m even more surprised that it came from your boss!

  • Rebekah

    As I read this article, I had 2 overwhelming thoughts.

    1) 100% YES to this: “It reminds me a bit of hoarding, but with opportunities. I was afraid if I didn’t take everything that came my way, I’d suddenly be without any opportunities. Which I think might be characteristic of those of us who have tried to find jobs in the recession.” I am signed up with 3 placement agencies, doing 1 full-time temp job, 1 15-hr/week internship, 1 unpaid internship, helping Lowe House Events when Liz needs me, singing in choir, and babysitting for 3 families, one for rent, as well as maintaining a romantic relationship. But I said yes to all these things because I was worried about missing out if I didn’t.

    2) Admitting to shortcomings and mistakes is hard and embarrassing for me, so I just want to say how brave you are for being so public and honest with yours in this post. It’s super admirable in so many ways to me, and does a lot to honor your relationship as well as you individually.

    Thanks, Maddie! I’m so glad you’re staff.

  • I LOVE saying yes. I have devised a few creative ways to say no that I like (which means I practice them more). Like when someone asks me to join a new committee or project, I say that I would love to be part of the brain trust but I can’t commit to any position with homework. Or I say I love the idea and I know someone more qualified/engaged in that area that would be a great fit and offer to introduce. I have tried to become a connector instead of an overloaded yes person who can’t be everything to all people. It has worked wonders :)

    • I other news, I accidentally reported a comment above and that should be disregarded completely please!

  • Ale

    Maddie, thank you so much for your brave post. As one of the silent APW readers, rare commenters, I really want to say that the community of honesty and trust you ladies have built is helpful. In real life. Thank you.

  • Caroline

    I say yes too much also. Although rather than ignoring my partner, it tends to end up with a great sobbing puddle of me on the floor that he has to try to pick up and put back together when I overdo it. He asked me to consciously say no a little more this semester and I actually did. But next semester? Oh vey.

    I think it may also have to do not just with the recession, but also with being a success kid growing up. Growing up there was this pressure that you must do All The Things to have enough extra curriculars to get into a good college. Balance? I’m only learning that now. I think it also comes from wanting to please other people. “But it will make them happy if I say yes.” I’m working on that one, focusing on taking care of myself more and trying to please others less. I’m not good at it yet (had a sobbing finals stress exacerbated breakdown tonight about that, in fact) but I’m working on it.

  • Kara

    Sounds like you might benefit by reading the book “The Power of a Positive No.” It’s awesome. It’s the follow-up book to “Getting to Yes”–the seminal work on negotiation, but with a decidedly different focus.

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