"Say Yes to Everything Before You’re 40..."
One of the living humans I most admire is Dr. Atul Gawande, who graduated from Stanford five years after me. This prominent surgeon, Harvard professor, humanist and healthcare expert wrote the New York Times bestseller “Being Mortal” and was the commencement speaker to Stanford graduate students, where he uttered the sentence that is the title of today’s blog.
I recently heard Atul say the same line on a podcast, and I experienced a serious case of cognitive dissonance. I understand his logic: be open to trying new things when you’re young, as you have no idea what’s truly going to be important or energizing to you. There’s truth to that, but it can also lead to an overtaxed and stressed-out young adult.
But, I mostly take exception to what comes after the dot, dot, dot. He quoted his medical department chair from the University of California, San Francisco, "Say yes to everything before you’re 40, and say no to everything after you’re 40." What?! While we’re big believers in the "Great Midlife Edit" at MEA, we’re also evangelists for trying something new or becoming a beginner over and over again in midlife and beyond.
Since Shonda Rhimes wrote "Year of Yes" six years ago, the world has been possessed by the idea of opting into everything. I love the curiosity and openness in this, but I also wonder where discernment has a role in life. As we get older, we realize that time, money, and energy are finite.
There is something to be said for saying yes more when we’re younger and taste-testing the world. And, there’s something to be said about being more thoughtful about what we say yes to later in life. I would suggest that "No" is a complete sentence as we age (thanks, Richard Leider), but when we say "Yes" after 40, we add an exclamation point because our affirmation has made it through our discernment filter: YES!
What are you saying YES! to after 40 years old?