Over the past fifteen years, beginning in 1998, Prez and I have driven through Baja, California at least ten times. Each time, before we leave, one or more well-meaning people express concern for our safety. What they know about Mexico—through the news, through second-hand stories, through friends of friends, and hearsay—is that it is dangerous, full of drugs and guns and cartels and kidnappings and rapes and murders. If these people were given the opportunity to travel to Baja, their answer would be no.
They would say no… and they would miss some of the most amazing scenery, friendly people, and unique adventures to be had in the entire world.
No two words have the power to change our lives more than Yes and No. I got them wrong for a lot of years, saying no when I should have said yes, and vice versa. I still struggle to get it right sometimes but I’m miles ahead of where I used to be, literally. I’m not alone either.
The two most important words in the world are the two that many people get wrong. On this trip, I’ve been asking myself why.
No Is Fear
When I think about all the no’s that should have been yes’s in my life, the common factor is fear.
I was afraid of change. I was afraid of the unknown. I was afraid of not being loved or accepted. I was afraid of failure and humiliation.
No’s that should be yes’s are reactionary, defensive, and often harmful in the long run. These no’s stunt growth. They’re junk food—a short sugar rush in place of nourishment and health. They lie to us. They tell us we’re safe when what we really are is trapped, stuck in place.
And when I say no is fear, I don’t mean the good kind of fear—the one that tells us not to walk into oncoming traffic or go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. I’m talking about unreasonable fear, ungrounded fear, toxic fear.
Yes is weakness
To some degree, yes’s that should be no’s come from the same place as their counterparts. But not completely. If no is my fear, then yes is my weakness. These yes’s are born in poor self esteem and feed on a desire to be loved and accepted. They tap into our worst qualities, such as greed and vanity. They’re insidious because they feel positive. Saying yes feels good.
For years I’d say yes to tasks I was either unqualified for or flat out didn’t want to do because I believed saying no would hurt someone’s feelings, (which, ultimately, would cause them to stop liking me). I’d say yes to too many tasks or commitments for the same reason, then I’d either end up failing and disappointing everyone anyway, or I’d end up tired, bitter, and resentful of the people who were “using me”.
Yes’s that should have been no’s were easily coaxed out of me with flattery, bribery, or some fanciful lies. I was naïve and an easy mark for just about any con. I could be counted on not to dig too deeply into false claims and promises because damn but I wanted to believe I was pretty, smart, talented, or could get rich quick.
The big change
How do you know when it’s the right yes or the right no? For me, it was a lot of detective work, following the trails left by those two words, deducing my motives, carefully examining the results. Look hard and long enough and patterns will emerge.
Those people who would say no to driving through Baja out of fear? I get it. I was scared on our first drive. I’ll never forget pulling into Cataviña in the pitch black, in the middle of nowhere, not even a gas station in sight. I had visions of banditos kicking in our flimsy camper door, robbing us, and dragging us out to the desert to die. We had to stop, (if there was anything truly dangerous about Baja back then it was the lousy state of the highway), we’d been driving all day, we were exhausted, and we were low on fuel. We finally spotted a huge RV with Texas plates and snugged in close for the night—hey, they were from Texas so we knew they’d be well-armed.
When Prez asked me to take that trip, it would have been easy to say no—we’d only been together a few months, I was finally making headway in my career and it wasn’t the best time to leave town, I had four cats that would need to be cared for during the six weeks we’d be gone, and let’s not forget how dangerous Mexico was. I had a pile of excuses to choose from and there was a time I would have used one or all of them without a second thought.
I said yes.
I said yes because that old koan my Karate sensei laid on me years before kept rolling through my head: What’s the difference between a reason and an excuse? I had enough money to catch a bus or plane home if things didn’t work out between Prez and I, six weeks wasn’t going to make or break my career and many shows were on hiatus over the holidays anyway, I had enough friends to care for my cats, and the place we’d be staying was populated with retirees so if they could brave the banditos certainly I could as well. All my reasons were excuses; the only thing “really” holding me back was fear.
I said yes, and it was the right yes. Since that first trip, I’ve had the extreme pleasure of exploring Baja’s many back roads and hidden treasures. I’ve shared lunch with ranch families living high in the dusty canyons where few gringos ever tread, I’ve cruised up pristine estuaries with local fishermen, I’ve dined on succulent Sonoran beef served out of a plywood shack, I’ve split a gut watching Prez perform with a travelling circus, I’ve petted whales and boated with dolphins, I’ve made more friends than I probably deserve, and I have discovered a culture that loves to sing and laugh and share with strangers.
Baja is not without danger and there are criminals here, don’t get me wrong, but no more than any place in the US or Canada that I’ve traveled. We leave our doors unlocked in many places here, we don’t do that in most of California.
I’m far from getting a bull’s-eye every time. My yes’s and no’s occasionally get mixed up and I pay the price. But I’ve at least figured out not to take those words lightly. They are small words but they are loaded with magic. Used correctly, they can open the doors to new worlds. Used incorrectly, they can lock you away in a high tower, safe from everything that makes life worth living.
Until next time, amigos, I hope this finds you healthy, happy, and lovin’ life!