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{Review} Essentialism vs. Yes Man

Essentialist or Yes Man? | The book dr. |

What to do when your personal philosophy hits a roadblock.

I’ve just finished reading Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. I loved it the first time I read it, and got just as much out of it this time around.

For those of you who haven’t read it, the basic principle is this: we often get distracted and waste our effort by pursuing too many goals at once. We make a millimeter of effort in a million different directions, instead of choosing what really matters. Focusing all our energy on what matters means much more progress much faster.

This is the path of specialization. I know this experience well: when I read 20 books at once, I never really get into any of them and I never get to finish any of them. If I just read one book at a time, I really dive in deep and finish it faster.

This makes sense, and I can see some ways I can make more concrete progress by saying no to more things that I’m not really that excited about, or that are less important to me, in favor of the ones that I want the most.


One of the other books that I have read that is a huge game-changer is Yes Man. I recommend each of these books all the time.

The quick summary of Yes Man by Danny Wallace is this- a guy who was stuck in a rut and feeling depressed got jolted out of this space when he was confronted by a man on the bus who told him he said no too much and that he should say yes more.

He then went on an odyssey of saying yes to every opportunity that came his way for the next year and it completely changed his life. When I was reading this book a friend was reading it as well. We were so fired up by this philosophy since it was so life affirming. But it did give us pause when trying to make plans with each other. We didn’t want to force the other person to join us, just because of the yes.

So we started leaving a lot of voicemails that sounded like this: “Hi! I just thought you’d want to know that I’m going to the movies today. I’m going to see Fantastic Movie at 3pm at this theater. Just thought I’d let you know. Bye!” That way, there was no question and no required yes.

But as I was working my way through Essentialism, feeling really good about saying no more, I remembered Danny Wallace and the joy of saying yes.

Am I an essentialist or a yes man?

This sort of thing is enough to put me into an identity tailspin, so I’ve been cooking on it all week. Do I have to choose one? Can I have both?

I think I can.

Here’s why:

  • The message of both books is, at their core, to say yes to the things that really matter.
  • The reason Danny Wallace had to go big on the yes was that he had gotten in the habit of saying no to everything all the time.
  • The core message here is: don’t say yes or no without considering why you’re saying it.

What I am looking for is a philosophy that combines both of these ideologies.

Let’s call it The Essential Yes.

Anyone want to be a part of this movement?

Here are the principles:

  1. Life is meant to be joyful and juicy
  2. Going all in creates a better result
  3. It’s important to consider all your options before going all in
  4. Go big at the beginning- brainstorm every single thing you might want to say yes to
  5. Then choose what you want to say yes to right now
  6. Go all in on that for as long or as short a time as you choose
  7. Repeat
  8. It’s ok to change your mind or to return to step 1 at any time
  9. Enjoy the process

That’s it… I think the major thing is that we make mindless choices in life a lot of the time, and this leads to unhappiness. We say yes to things without asking ourselves if they are really want, so we need to strengthen our no. If this is your tendency, I suggest you read Essentialism. We might also say no right away, fearing we’ll be disappointed or get overwhelmed, so we stay small and hide from anything new that feels too dangerous. If this is you, I say go for Yes Man.

We’ll all meet in the middle on this method.

The point is to say yes to the things that matter and no to things that don’t.

Have a philosophy that helps you sort through these choices? Please do share below in the comments. I can’t wait to hear!

Until then, I’ll just be here dreaming of a podcast episode that’s a debate between Greg McKeown and Danny Wallace on just this topic. Heaven. I will do my best to make it happen…

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