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The Year I Said Yes: A Journey of Transformation | by Melissa Schmidiger, Leadership Coach | Jun, 2024

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So, I had a pretty horrible 2011 filled with disappointment. I hugged the resentment close to my chest. I withdrew to my inner circle of friends and to the dark cave of my room and TV and VCR.

I found a sliver of light and inspiration in Yes Man when Jim Carrey took the advice of a self-help guru to say yes to everything for a year. And, magical things happened. So I thought,

Mt. Pulag, the Philippines 2nd highest mountain. Photo Credit: Melissa Schmidiger

How would I know that the first invitation of 2012 was to scale 2,928 m mountain?

Yep. The universe has a pretty spectacular sense of humor. Go big or go home.

First week of January, my former boss and mentor rings and says, “Hey, my wife and I are going up Mt. Pulag — it’s the second-highest peak in the Philippines. We’re going with a big group and distributing solar lights, so it’s going to be fun and for a good cause!”

My “yes” came out very tentatively, knowing full well I had no athletic capacity to climb even a tiny hill, let alone a mountain. But he was persuasive: “I’ll make sure you’re okay. I know you have epilepsy, so I won’t let you out of my sight. It’ll be an adventure! I’ll bring a tent for you — just bring food and hiking gear.”

One of my best friends provided my hiking boots since she was a mountaineer. I bought clothes that fit me — I mean, if there’s something I can throw myself into, it’s outfit shopping. For food, I imagined we needed well-packaged items for the night before the summit. So, I went to the deli next door, got mini baguettes, dried meat and cheese, and a half-bottle of wine. My mentor said it would be fun! I also packed lavender wipes because I wanted to be fresh. Looking back, my packing list makes me look like Paris Hilton. But hey, hindsight is 20/20.

Fast forward to base camp. It’s not what I expected. The “big group” is composed of experienced mountaineers and triathletes. The first Filipino to summit Mount Everest, Leo Oracion, is with us. I have no idea who he is. We have people who travel for marathons and then there’s me, committing to summit this mountain because “it’s a good idea.” This, I quickly realize, is a very bad idea.

We sit around a campfire with members of the Ibaloi tribe, who’ve lived there for centuries. They’re grateful we’re handing over solar lamps for their children to study with. Night comes, and my tent is pitched by Jim, my mentor. He himself is not used to roughing it, so when the deluge of rain comes, my tent is awash with water. It’s a rough night that ends at 3 am when we all get up to start our summit.

My ego gets bruised early on when my asthma kicks in, and I see 70-year-old women in flip-flops carrying tents and bags like sherpas — while singing. It’s humid. Hiking is hard when you’re out of condition, but when you’re drenched in sweat and sleep-deprived, it’s hellish. I stop frequently. Someone gives me hot cocoa. The sugar kicks in. I realize I have a headlamp when someone turns it on, just in time to see we are negotiating a very narrow ledge.

We must hurry to catch the sunrise at the peak. There’s a flurry of activity. I realize I’m holding people back, yet no one rushes me. I hear encouraging words. People laugh and eat. I am passed food and water.

At some point, Leo comes next to me, tells me to take off my jacket, and puts it in his backpack. He tells me I’m overheating. He pours water over my head and tells me to sit down. As I cool down, children rush around him chanting, “Idol! Idol! Idol!” He laughs, carrying his celebrity lightly. He walks with me until we get to the peak, telling me about his hometown with old Spanish bridges, keeping me talking to distract me. When we get close to the summit, he leaps ahead and puts a hand down to pull me up. Someone pushes me from behind.

We make it in time to witness the most glorious sunrise, together with 30 others. We sit above the clouds, in the high grass, savoring coffee in the cold mountain air. As we huddle together, triathletes, newbies, environmentalists, and soul-searchers — we’re all the same. We are mountaineers.

I learned so much in that first adventure of 2012.

In saying “Yes,” I learned to trust others again. I barely knew anyone in the group except for my mentor and wife. I was accepted into the group despite my obvious “sticking out.” I was taken care of, and people ensured I made it.

I learned to trust myself again. One of the guys on the trip was a running coach. I enlisted him to help me get over my fear of physical activity due to my epilepsy. With his help, I ran two half-marathons. I now consider myself athletic.

Climbing Mt. Pulag opened me to the idea I could do more. For too long, I had felt stuck in my career. When I got a call in August about an opening in Singapore for a role with regional remit — and I was needed in six weeks, I had no hesitation when I said, “Yes.” learned so much in that first adventure of 2012.

Saying “yes” changed my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It brought me new challenges, new friends, and a new sense of confidence. It reminded me that growth often comes from the most unexpected places.

So, what will you say “yes” to this year? Whether it’s a daunting career move, a personal challenge, or an opportunity that scares you a little, embrace it. The rewards are worth the risk.

Remember, it’s not just about saying “yes” to everything blindly, but about being open to new experiences and trusting yourself to handle whatever comes your way. Here’s to your own year of yes — may it be filled with adventure, growth, and unexpected joy.

If you liked this article, and you haven’t already, come and connect with me on Linkedin.



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