This is an interview with my great friend, Alex Chmiel, who began earning the nickname, "Yesman" two years ago when we met WWOOFing on a farm in Hawaii. Since, he's continued earning that nickname saying Yes to things from winning concert tickets from radio stations, to spontaneous hot air balloon rides, to college graduation speeches. He's about to set out on a five and a half month walk across the United States from Mexican to Canadian border through the mountains, so I was ecstatic for the opportunity to interview him about his relationship with the word Yes before he drops of the grid for a while.
How did you come to embrace the Yesman Philosophy?
The Yesman philosophy came rather unintentionally, actually. I was pondering what I would do one summer between my freshman and sophomore year at college and was talking with a friend. Stumped, my friend asked, “Well, why don’t you go to Hawaii for the summer?” He laid out some good arguments and the more I thought about it the more I realized I couldn't think of any reason not to go. Definitely uncharted territory for me, but I made it happen. I got a work trade job that paid for my living expenses, saved up enough for a plane ticket, and flew out to the Big Island of Hawaii.
I ended up living in a 35’ high treehouse in Hawaii that summer and, noticing how one big Yes led to such an awesome experience, I embraced this philosophy of Yes my entire stay. The Yesman philosophy quickly evolved into a way of thinking. It became the default answer to a lot of questions I’d ask myself and soon it became a permanent fixture in the back of my mind. From that, adventure and opportunity blossomed bigger than I could have imagined.
Note: Alex and I met on that farm in Hawaii (his treehouse is pictured above) and through our adventures both collaborated on this video. It lends a solid understanding of the implications of Yes.
Why should we say Yes more often?
Yes is more than an answer to a question. Yes is seeking questions in the first place and knowing the answer before the question is asked. It is a way of looking at the world, seeing the possibility, and believing that nothing is too outlandish to try (barring anything illegal or in bad taste).
The question in our heads is often ‘should I do this?’ or ‘should I do that?’ Our brains look for ways to skirt around the problem, our fears and subconsciousness getting in the way, but as a Yesman, we already have the answer.
Two things worth noting here are:
1. Seeking opportunity and saying Yes leads to novel experiences which, amazingly enough, leads to a longer lifespan! Life is measured in memories and saying yes is a surefire way to make more lasting memories.
2. Rejection does not need to be the painful experience we imagine it to be. There is a guy on Youtube that went out and looked for rejection every day for 100 days, asking strangers for ridiculous things like if he could borrow $100 or get a custom Olympic Rings donut piece at Krispy Kreme (which he got!). If you say Yes to an opportunity and fail, it isn't the end of the world. It’s OK to get shut down every once and awhile. It reminds us that we’re human!
A Yesman already has the answer, I love that, such an actionable point. What are some of the things your uncommon zest for Yes has led to? Could you tell us a story about one of these experiences?
That’s like a quote from the Yes Man movie. I can see the movie cover now, big block letter title, superman like figure with a big YM on his shirt, and then right under the title, “The man with an Uncommon Zest for Yes!” To me, Yesman is not a person. Yesman is a belief—a way of thinking—that anybody can be part of if they embrace their inner Yesman.
Saying Yes is the ultimate tool for new experiences. It’s led me to amazing adventures, from an invitation to juggle at a Seattle circus school, to a ride in a hot air balloon over the Arizona desert, to a walk through a grazing herd of elk in the Cascades, to living in a treehouse in Hawaii. One of my favorite things saying Yes has led me to, though, because it was SO EASY, was winning tickets to live music events.
I used to drive to school every morning listening to my college’s radio station. One morning, they asked listeners to call in for their game show to try to win some tickets to a concert. I initially didn’t call in, but my inner Yesman quickly intervened. After a minute, I convinced myself to pick up the phone and, long story short, I ended up winning the tickets, learning that being an early morning college radio station, they don’t get that many callers!
So, after that, I would listen every Thursday and call in to win tickets on my way to school. It got to the point where I was like, “OK, I haven't seen any live music in a while, I think I’m gonna win some tickets this week!” And I would, with about a 70% success rate. I have won more tickets than I can count—tickets to laser tag and car racing events, shows at the Seattle laser dome, a ton of metal concerts, and to a handful of EDM shows, too.
One of my most memorable wins was tickets to a metal band called Atreyu at a small venue in Seattle. I went with a buddy from school and we ended up close to the stage where a bunch of people were crowd surfing. I had never crowd surfed before but wondered what it would be like… And that’s when the Yesman mentality came into play.
The second I thought, “What it would be like to crowd surf?” I knew there were only two options: to find out or to not find out. To live as a Yesman, at the core of every decision is a built in answer, one that takes absolutely no effort to come up with or energy to decide... Go for it!
So I got some people around me to lift me up and went crowd surfing for my first time. It was surreal, but the crowd kept moving me towards the stage and I never stopped. Before I knew it, I was standing on stage—guitarist on my left and bass guitarist on my right—staring at the crowd of people that just put me there! I headbanged for a second like any good metal fan would do, then proceeded to exit stage left, only there was an NFL defensive linebacker of a security guard standing in my way. Crossing his arms, he told me to go back the way I came. He literally told me the only way I was gonna be getting off that stage is if I stage dived back!!! To say the least, it was a night to remember.
That’s incredible. Do you have any recommendations on how we can become better at recognizing opportunities and saying Yes to them?
Have a little pow-wow sit down sesh with yourself one night and ask yourself if you're ready to get life going and stop living on autopilot. That’s what it takes, a desire to be a part of life and not just a casual observer.
Then, start with the little things. If you want to ask somebody a question, but you think “Ah, I don’t know if I should ask that question…” Do it. Ask the question. Those little things will build the confidence in yourself that saying Yes has incredible power when thinking of the big things.
Once you get the hang of trusting the Yes, it starts becoming the default answer to a lot of “Should I…” type questions. Eventually, it becomes a sort of permanent fixture in the back of your head, the Yesman, always there. And because saying Yes leads to more opportunities and you have greater confidence in saying Yes to opportunities, the world will open up before you.
Speaking of those bigger things, of all your Yeses, the one that most inspired me was your college graduation speech last spring. Can you recount your recognition of the opportunity, the Yes, and experience for us?
Oh man, yeah. That was one of those, “bigger things come later” things I mentioned before. When I was in college, I made a point to read the bulletins on campus periodically. One day, I saw they were looking for student graduation speakers. There were a bunch of requirements, all of which I met, but holy crap, a graduation speech… That’s a lot of pressure! So I emailed you, actually, saying I didn’t know if I wanted to apply (READ: I was scared). You basically replied, “What would the Yesman do?” I was trapped at that point! So… I got to work.
Many, many hours of work and one month later, I auditioned in front of a handful of faculty and students who had been watching others apply all evening for this one spot. I was super nervous, and after finishing my speech they weren’t allowed to give any feedback or anything. I assumed I wouldn’t get it, but to my surprise, I got an email one week later that started with the word “Congratulations.”
Three weeks after that I was on stage at graduation in front of all my friends, family, teachers, and 4,000 other students and parents, hailing our achievements and closing a chapter in our lives. It was a surreal experience, one I would never even have dreamed of without incorporating Yesman into the essence of my being.
What’s next for the Yesman?
At the end of March, my girlfriend and I will begin walking over 2,500 miles across the United States from Mexican border to Canadian border along the Pacific Crest Trail. We are doing so in hopes of raising $10,000 for Shatterproof, an organization focused on ending the devastation drug addiction causes families.
Addiction hits home for us. Almost everyone knows of someone dealing with drug addiction. For us, it was the family member who was over-prescribed opiate painkillers for their back problems or the used-to-be best friend who decided robbery was the easiest way to cop a fix. It was the classmate who managed the pain of a lost loved one in the wrong ways, the buddy who got a little too curious and messed around with the wrong high, or the girl who got caught up and messed around with the wrong type of guy. Addiction affects communities and we hope our fundraiser can encourage those battling with addiction to seek the help the need and deserve.
As your first act of Yes, I ask you to join me in donating one cent per mile to Hiking for Hope, the Yesman's fundraiser for Shatterproof:
*If your budget's too tight, you can also help by getting more eyes this post (by using those share buttons)!