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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

How to say ‘Yes’ to everything (within reason, of course)

Image Description: A river with trees behind, in Port Meadow.

A few months ago, I somehow ended up in an Improv class whilst on a football training camp. No doubt this is common knowledge to a seasoned thespian, but we were taught that one of the cardinal rules of Improv was never to say ‘No’ in a scene, as it would be unhelpful to the plot and character development. How strange it would be, I thought, to have to agree to everything like that in real life.
It was not long afterwards that my wonderful roommate suggested this title for my next article. Despite the panic that flooded my stomach at the thought of this challenge, I agreed, and sent out a message to friends and family asking for the most wild and adventurous requests they could think of, all of which I would have to say ‘Yes’ to.
Here is what happened next…


Watching my first ever football match
:
I was invited to go and watch the England international women’s team play in Wolverhampton with the newly-crowned cuppers champions, the Catz women’s football team. The two-and-a-half hour drive turned out to be more than worth the wait, as we watched England defeat Germany to win the 2022 Arnold Clark Cup!
While I have always quite enjoyed watching football matches on television, people have always told me that being in a stadium and feeling the ‘atmosphere’ is a different story altogether – and it really was. I was completely starstruck too and could hardly resist jumping up and down in glee when I saw so many of the England players I had been so in awe of during the World Cup in 2019, playing barely 200 metres away from us. The roar of the crowd after every tackle, free kick and goal was sensational. It reminded me of what I love most about sport – its power to inspire and impress people from such diverse backgrounds.


The verdict: 100/10 – Hands-down one of the coolest experiences of not just my Yes-challenge, but of my life! Thank you to the Catz football team for a truly wonderful day! This will definitely be my first football match of many.

How strange it would be, I thought, to have to agree to everything like that in real life.


Wild water swimming:
I was dreading this one the most. Taking a dip in the river in Trinity Term when the Sun is beaming down and you are feeling nice and warm after the glass(es) of Pimm’s you have been drinking all afternoon is one thing. For some reason, the currents of the river Isis just do not seem quite so appealing in late February.
After a lucky escape on my first attempt, (I honestly was just about to follow a couple of seasoned wild-swimming-friends into the icy-cold river at Christchurch Meadows when we were stopped by a park ranger – how sad) I finally took the plunge on a breezy afternoon as the Sun was setting over the banks of Port Meadow. There was very little actual swimming involved. At the behest of my friends, I took a perfunctory stroke of something that vaguely resembled a front crawl and then pleaded, my teeth chattering, ‘Could I please get out now?’.
Against all expectations, I loved it. It was invigorating, yet relaxing and the perfect way to de-stress during term-time as the water temperature leaves room for absolutely nothing else in your mind.


The verdict: 9/10 – it might have been great, but it was still very cold.


The Weetabix and Parma Violet milkshake:
There was always going to be at least one request for me to eat/drink something weird. As someone who is guilty of always ordering the same thing from a lot of restaurants, it was liberating to allow someone else to control my culinary experience for once. I would like to think that I will be at least a little more adventurous going forward. Still, not sure I will ever be having anything containing Weetabix or Parma Violets anytime soon.


The verdict: 0/10 – no, thank you.


Going vegan for a week
:
I tried. I really did.
As someone who struggles to even make it through Meat-Free Mondays, this was always going to be a challenge. I lasted two full days and two half days (the lack of vegan options at the England match and the Weetabix milkshake proved to be unconquerable obstacles). On the fifth day, my stint as a vegan ended once and for all when, after an exhausting day of rowing and dance training sessions, I finally caved and ordered a large meat pizza from Domino’s. If that was not bad enough, I added stuffed crust too.


The verdict: 3/10 – I might have failed, but I have come to realise that being able to sustain such a diet requires impressive forethought and organisation. I had not comprehended just how difficult it is to find vegan-friendly food while out and about. While it is very doubtful that I will be doing this one again, in a surprising turn of events, oat milk has become a staple in my diet!


A date with myself:
Not your traditional dinner or drinks, I took myself out on my idea of a perfect date. I donned a summer dress and spent the afternoon wandering up and down the Thames, stopping to gaze poignantly out from Tower Bridge and sip an awfully indulgent milkshake upon a bench outside the Globe Theatre. Although I have lived in London my whole life and have walked up Southbank and across London Bridge more times than I can remember, I have never done so by myself.


The verdict: 10/10 – the company was excellent.


Playing as a shooter in a netball match
:
I had to repeatedly check with the rest of Wadham netball that they were 100% sure they wanted to effectively forfeit our matches this week, especially after this one was requested by multiple people. When I went on as GA, the only goal I had in mind was staying out of the way of our seasoned GS. Somehow, the game turned out to be a resounding success: all I can say is that our other shooter is really good, and I managed to make a couple of fortuitous lobs that somehow tumbled through the net.
At the risk of sounding terribly pretentious, maybe netball is a lot like life: sometimes, we have to put ourselves in positions we do not want to be in; sometimes, even when the odds seem completely out of our favour, the best thing we can do is to just shoot our shot. You never know what goals you might achieve.


The verdict: 8/10 – thoroughly enjoyable, not sure we will be making this a regular position though.


Spending one-on-one time with someone new
:
I went for lunch with a course mate whom I have somehow never spent one-on-one time with, despite having shared numerous classes and group pub trips! It cemented a friendship that should have been built so much sooner, and has inspired me to ‘go for coffee’ with so many more of the people in my life.
As a finalist, it is easy to think that meeting new people in Oxford this year will be both impossible, due to the term time workload, and a little redundant, given the limited time we have left at university. Yet I have found the opposite. Building new connections has been the highlight of this term, much-needed after a year limited by lockdowns.


The verdict: 10/10 – We never know how long friendships are going to last when we make them. No matter what year or stage of life we are in, new connections are always worth exploring!


Trying a Salsa class:
I was fatally complacent about this one. Having danced from a very young age, I assumed I would cruise through the class, being able to show off a wonderful repertoire of fancy footwork and pick up the choreography at first glance. Oh, how wrong I was.
Dancing by yourself is one thing – what I had not considered was the completely unnerving experience of dancing with complete strangers for the first time. The constant rotation of partners was even more jarring – I found myself transported back to freshers’ week as I introduced myself dozens of times and found that the names and faces of my dance partners began to blur in my mind, already reeling from the salsa choreography!


The verdict: 7/10 – a refreshing experience, but evidently I am not ready for Strictly Come Dancing just yet.

…sometimes, even when the odds seem completely out of our favour, the best thing we can do is to just shoot our shot. You never know what goals you might achieve.


Mending a broken friendship
:
I went for a walk with an old friend and realised it is never too late to reconnect with people you were once close with. When I was young, I used to think that every friendship I made would last forever. Growing up, I have come to realise that friendships change and grow throughout our lives just as much as we do. Misunderstandings happen; sometimes you lose touch; sometimes life takes you in different directions. But sometimes, all it takes is a coffee and a walk to remind you that even the oldest friendships can have new beginnings.


The verdict: 10/10 – being able to reflect upon past mistakes and recognise your own growth is surprisingly rewarding.


A new Oxford library:
I settled upon the Weston library, which I have never been to despite the fact that it is not even a 2-minute walk away from the room where I live in Wadham. The Weston is unique for its stipulation that you are not allowed to take bags, coats or pens into the library. Leaving my belongings in the lockers at the entrance was a strange experience in itself; the library seemed more precious somehow. I worked on the topmost floor on a desk by the window, surrounded by what looked like extremely ancient books and some startlingly loud electric pencil sharpeners.


The verdict: 9/10 – working in a completely new place turned out to be brilliantly productive and I ended up writing most of my dissertation here!


I went into this challenge thinking that my time saying ‘Yes’ would be the perfect demonstration as to why it is so important to say ‘No’ to certain things. The pressure not to disappoint people’s expectations and the urge to take on more than we can handle can feel overwhelming, particularly in a university scene where the possibilities for involvement and immersion are endless. I thought saying ‘Yes’ would just prove exhausting: instead, it has been distinctly exhilarating. When my roommate asked me a few days ago what my reflections were upon my ‘Yes-challenge’, I told her honestly that saying ‘Yes’ had led to one of the happiest and most enjoyable periods of time during my years in Oxford so far.
I am not suggesting that we go around blindly saying ‘Yes’ to every single thing that is asked of us – it is important to recognise the difference between those things that are beyond our limits for good reason and those things that will productively challenge us. It turns out, the things people wanted me to say ‘Yes’ to have ended up enriching my life in unforeseeable ways. All the things I was asked to do had one thing in common: they forced me outside of my comfort zone in one way or another.
Just as in Improv, good plot development and character-building in our everyday lives requires us to say ‘Yes’, to open ourselves up to the possibility of experiencing something entirely new. If you are reading this, I challenge you to say ‘Yes’ to something you might otherwise never have agreed to. Maybe it will end up being awful. But maybe, just maybe, it will end up being the best decision you ever made. Take that risk. Go where you have never been before. Dare to know.
After all, in the words of Lewis Carroll, a man who once walked the streets of Oxford himself: ‘In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take!’

Image Credit: Uma Gurav

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