A few weeks ago, I was nearing the end of a daylong intensive with a client who’d come to me for help mapping out a nonfiction book. When the day began, she spoke of wanting to write a book about leadership—something that might gather together years of insight she’d gained from working with high-level executives.
But the more we talked, the more obvious it became what she really wanted to write was a memoir. With very little prompting she began telling me her life story. She recalled riveting memories in great detail. She grew curious about what themes might emerge. She wondered what she might learn from telling her story.
Soon, it was clear to both of us that a memoir was what she’d been called to write. No, more than that, a memoir was what she needed to write.
Near the end of the day, after we’d mapped out the arc of her story, she leaned back into the couch, looked at the whiteboard filled with detailed notes about her life, and said, “Oh, shit. I’m not sure I can do this.”
That’s when I knew she was on the right path.
How did I know this?
Because she was having a Yes, Yes, Hell No! moment.
A Yes, Yes, Hell No! moment, a term coined by Brian Whetten, one of my former business coaches, occurs when three things happen:
- You consider a decision (such as writing a memoir) and your internal voice of intuition lights up and says, “Yes! This decision feels right!”
- The internal voice of reason considers the decision from a more rational place and it agrees with intuition. “Yes, this decision makes total sense!”
- Then, the voice of fear rears its ugly head and says, “Hell no! I’m afraid of doing this.”
Whetten believes whenever your three internal voices come together in a Yes, Yes Hell No!, you should definitely move forward with a decision because these responses indicate you’re on your soul’s path. After working with a couple thousand authors—all of all of whom were afraid, on some level, to write—I agree this response is a clear sign to move forward.
Why? “Because great choices are both inspiring and scary,” Whetten explains. “They cause your intuition to light up and your heart to sing. At the same time, they also bring up your fears. And the bigger the opportunity, the louder and trickier the voice of fear becomes.”
Fear’s job is not to stop us, he adds, it’s to warn us. Instead of believing fear is a sign you should not pursue a decision, give fear a chance to speak. See if you can more clearly understand what is scary and why. Often, by examining yours fears—instead of letting them run your life—the fear quiets down and you can proceed.
As I talked with my client about why she was afraid of writing a memoir she revealed two things (which, by the way, are common to most memoirists): 1) she worried what other people would think of her once they knew the truth of her experience; and, 2) she was afraid of reliving painful traumatic memories she’d spent a lifetime trying to suppress.
As we talked about her fears, they began to lessen. She came to realize she needed to write the book first and foremost for herself, and that it would be a long time before anybody she knew actually read it. By that time, she anticipated she would have grown more comfortable with the material.
Second, she began to see that writing a memoir might allow her to package her painful memories in a healthy way—and research has shown this to be true. When traumatic events become more coherent through storytelling, they don’t sneak up and surprise us, and thus, they can be laid to rest more easily.
After giving her voice a fear a chance to speak, my client saw that neither of these fears were reasons to stop her from writing. By the time she left my office, her reaction to writing a memoir had morphed from a Yes, Yes, Hell No! into a much more decisive and energetic Yes, Yes, Hell Yes!
If you’d like to learn more about the Yes, Yes, Hell No! framework, take a look at this book by Brian Whetten.