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Just say “yes”—the advice that saved my life

“I’m going to check out this breakfast tomorrow morning called New Jobs for the New Economy,” I said to my mom, who was intent on my getting a new job. It was post-Bubble 1.0 and I was a casualty. The Dot-Com I had worked for exploded. This was after leaving my bulge bracket investment banking job. I was lost. Throughout my life I’d had a roadmap, but a year ago I had none. So I did something that I didn’t normally do: I veered off the path by saying “yes.”

After I’d lost my Internet job, an acquaintance offered a “job” as an “extra” on a Hollywood film. Through some luck, guts and more yesses, I got upgraded to become the bodyguard to the prime minister of Malaysia in the film Zoolander. One thing led to another and it landed me an agent who was now calling, a year later: “You’ll be a lawyer on Sidney Lumet’s 100 Centre Street, call time 10:45am at Silvercup Studios. Can you accept?” Before I had a moment to think, I said “yes.”

I wouldn’t have to look for a job tomorrow; I wouldn’t have to wake up early; I wouldn’t have to go to the Windows of the World at the top of the World Trade Center where the breakfast was being held.  I stayed up late browsing the web, but was woken up a few minutes after 9am to the ringing of my phone. The date was Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

“Yes” opened doors

“Yes” had prevented me from heading to the World Trade Center.  But now it helped me to apply an open mindedness, a willingness to try new things, and most importantly the ability to say “yes.” It’s a very powerful word.  The #1 rule in any improvisation class is to always say “yes, and…” By saying “no,” you kill your partner’s idea and close the door to creativity and opportunity. I took this approach to life and to my career.  I’ve said “yes” to many things, some things that I probably shouldn’t have and others that the old me would never have. By saying “yes,” I found myself:

That’s me in the brown suit.
  • Competing in a bodybuilding contest
  • Acting on Law and Order (Episode: “Debt”)
  • Performing Off Broadway in “The Shanghai Gesture”
  • Competitive eating everything from ribs to hamburgers for the Association of Independent Competitive Eaters
  • Modeling on the cover of GQ
  • Finishing three NYC marathons
  • Setting a Guinness World Record for visiting the most pubs in 24 hours
  • Winning a Webby Award for a video mosaic
  • Winning a viral video contest
  • Lecturing to a class at the Wharton business school
  • Starting and selling an internet company
  • Winning an award for screenwriting
  • Climbing to the top of the world’s major skyscrapers and finishing in the top 20%
  • Strutting down the runway during New York Fashion Week
  • Teaching at Fashion Institute of Technology
  • Producing television pilots

I was asked by a friend of mine if I regretted leaving banking when Wall Street bonuses hit an all time high of half a million dollars prior to the financial crisis.  I thought about it but I finally said “no.”

“Yes” creates stories

Yes opened a lot of doors for me—too many, in fact. I envy those people who knew exactly what they wanted to do when they were five years old and are now working in that profession today. What I enjoyed throughout the journey was learning about other people’s journeys. Their journeys inspired me to find my own. What I found was that I enjoy, and happen to be good at, connecting people.

Through events, dinners, and parties, I enjoy bringing people together. Even our business, Cooperatize, brings together advertisers and publishers in a meaningful way, giving businesses sponsorship opportunities within relevant publications.  What these potential collaborations do is provide more chances to create great stories.

The story is everything.  It’s what happens after you say “yes.”

You can follow him on Twitter @rogerwu99. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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