The Importance of "Yes and"


In my life before Inseus, I had the privilege to serve as a corporate executive for a global fashion technology company. There, through personal experiences—some less comfortable than I would have wished for at the time—I learned the importance of developing a radical “yes” mentality. 

I don’t mean that inexhaustible and exasperating “life is so great, I just love it” kind of yes. I mean an openness to saying “yes and” instead of “no thanks” or “yeah but.”

For me—and many others I know—the power of yes has been proven over and over again in both my personal and professional life. Yes has empowered me to explore possibilities. Yes has taught me to lean into curiosity. Yes has opened doors. And practicing mindfulness has helped me recognize the purpose that exists in each moment, even during uncomfortable or painful times.

Saying yes feels pretty easy when we’re offered the good things in life—more money, more comfort, more security, more happiness. In business, saying yes is easy when it means more power, a better title, a bigger office, longer vacations, a higher salary, greater prestige. But what happens when we’re asked to say yes to something we believe we don’t want? In those instances, the “yeah buts” may pop out of our mouths more readily than the “yes ands.” Experience has taught me that “yeah but” creates a lack of engagement, aversion and obstacles; “yes and” creates curiosity and openness and can pay off in unexpected and wonderful ways. 

A dozen or more years ago, one of my then-employer’s most important clients went through a major corporate reorganization, which in turn triggered a lot of internal jockeying at my company for our client’s highest profile businesses. I jumped right into the fray. In the end, I was offered the client’s smallest US division, a smaller international division, and other emerging categories of my company’s business. Combined, it all added up to a lot of new learning, more complexity, and opportunity to scale. All I saw was less prestige, less business volume, and reduced corporate visibility. I struggled with what seemed like a sidetrack to my intended career trajectory. With considerable reservations, I said yes. And, as so often happens when we say yes, life offered me a wealth of unexpected opportunities.

With patience and humility—and some mentoring from an unlikely source who helped me see my future without walls or borders—I came to see that with responsibility for many small businesses, I could learn a lot more about managing an end-to-end enterprise with full P&L accountability much faster than I would ever learn overseeing one large account or function group. Being required to wear many hats was like living and working inside a learning lab where I could quickly hone executive-level capabilities and problem-solving skills that would serve me very well later in my career. I also learned how to make tough choices about dismantling a business that no longer fit our corporate strategy, how to make challenging decisions about reorganizing talent, and how to have those difficult conversations that come with reductions in force, right-sizing, and strategy changes.

I had the rare opportunity to regularly engage with the C-suite, participating in strategic decision making and cultivating my capacity for leadership. Not obvious to me at the time, those experiences primed me to step into my future role leading the Americas business unit and, perhaps more importantly, leading with compassion, vulnerability, and authenticity. 

While that’s a very happy ending, I must add a caveat. Adopting a radical yes mentality doesn’t mean you can’t ever say no. Mindfulness practice teaches us to ask for what we need (see my recent blog for more on that subject), and at the same time to be prepared if we don’t get it. Mindfulness can support us to set boundaries and prioritize, ensuring we don’t become overwhelmed by all the possibilities that “yes” opens up.

Mindfulness also gives us permission to reframe how we see and evaluate opportunities presented to us. If we put our lives and careers on autopilot, defaulting to a narrow or rigid definition of success, we may not see opportunities for learning and growth. The potential for this runs strong in a corporate environment where the competition for rapid advancement is often outweighed only by individuals’ feelings of entitlement, inflated egos, or unrealistic expectations.  

So, from personal experience and watching others succeed and sometimes fail around me, I have learned to say yes to possibilities and growth even when the reward doesn't seem obvious. To say yes to small jobs and large jobs, and yes to extra projects. To say yes to reporting to a leader I might not feel I can learn from. To say yes to learning and finding purpose in every situation. And, I’ve learned to give permission to explore opportunities with uncertain outcomes not only to myself, but to my teams as well.

Most importantly, I’ve learned the critical importance of saying yes to doing more good in the world around me. That was the driving force behind one of the most important times I said “no.” When I decided to leave my executive position to found Inseus, I was handed a tempting offer to stay on in the corporate world. I said “no” to that, and “yes” to something far less certain and with far more potential for my own personal fulfillment. I said “yes” to sharing the practice and benefits of mindfulness with anyone who’ll listen. For me, that is a radical yes mentality in action.

Mindfully yours,

Ashley Nelson