The wonder of saying yes and letting go (part 1)

The wonder of saying yes and letting go (part 1)

They say you miss 100 percent of the shots you didn’t take. And that our biggest regrets in life aren’t over the mistakes we made but, instead, the moments when we were too timid. Didn’t take any risks. These chapters were never written because we met life with a fragile No instead of a trusting Yes.

And a lot of that is probably true. But for me, my biggest regrets (so far) aren’t really over my No’s. Instead, it’s the chapters that actually started out with a big bold yes; but the yes was mostly to myself.

The darkness of these chapters creeps up because it feels like you’re courageously heading into the light. “Betting on yourself.” “Chasing a dream.” “Making a leap of faith.” But, disguised behind all of these freedom mantras is actually not much freedom at all. There’s a course I’ve already charted out. A set finish line I have in mind. And an expectation for how things will ultimately play out–or at least how things should play out.

These chapters continue to deceive as you’re heading down the wrong path (which, of course, feels like the best and only path). Again, none of it feels like a bad thing. You’re working harder than ever. Waking up early. Staying up late. Going after a dream. And a lot of times you do end up getting what you’re going after; which only affirms that all of the sacrifices were totally worthwhile.

So what’s wrong with this road? Running back the list, the equation looks fine. Started with a leap of faith. Check. Worked incredibly hard. Check. Loved what I was doing. Check. And here are the accomplishments. Check. Am I missing something here? Why wouldn’t this process be a good thing?

For the last year and a half, I was deceived by one of these paths. And the feeling when you realize it isn’t so much one of regret or shame, it’s more of an embarrassment. Like falling for the classic hey-you-got-mustard-on-your-shirt-finger-to-the-nose trick. You get to the end of one of these chapters and wonder, “Wow, how am I still that gullible?”

Things that take a year and a half can’t really be explained in a sentence and a half. So I want to tell a story. It’s a story that will feel like it’s headed in a bunch of different directions and won’t really make sense until the end. It’s a wandering tale that involves: New York City, bagels, Kramer from Seinfeld, healthcare, Chicago, a dream, and a pink gorilla. Yep. A pink gorilla. It’s a story that unfolded quietly in the background of life, gently guiding me into the light. And as I look back on it, my only regret is not appreciating the little things more or seeing all of the little connections. But I can’t kick myself too much. As Søren Kierkegaard once said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

So, let’s begin the story back in 2010. With a guy who’d never lived outside the state of Michigan.

Holland, Michigan

My dad went to the University of Kansas. So did both of his parents, his uncle, and all three of his siblings. My older brother too. But at 18-years-old, I wasn’t ready to move 12 hours away from Midland, Michigan to Lawrence, Kansas. It was too big of a leap.

So I held onto what I knew and made a much smaller leap of faith, going from the east side of the state to the west. Midland to Holland. And while it may have been a yes to something new, there wasn’t much of a leap. I was holding on tight and my feet were still planted on the ground.

The story I was planning to write was to keep playing basketball. And I’d study political science because, well, I was into student council in high school. That seemed like a logical path. The first semester came and went and I realized, “Crap, the big guys are bigger, the guards are faster” and the 2012 election–which seems tame by today’s standards–showed me I wasn’t really interested in politics.

My structured storyline was now over and I woke up in the darkness of a January winter wondering, “Where do I go from here?”


There’s an episode of Seinfeld called The Strike. This is the one where George Costanza’s dad, played by Jerry Stiller, reveals his beloved self-created holiday “Festivus for the Rest of Us.”

The main storyline in the episode is how Cosmo Kramer has been on strike for 12 years from his job at H&H Bagels. He gets a phone call that the strike is over and heads back to work. But when Jerry Stiller tells him about Festivus, Kramer is immediately excited and asks for the day off. The owners deny his request and Kramer goes back on strike.

Taste of New York Bagels and Deli

Kramer is a fictional character, but H&H Bagels is a real place. The bagel deli was started in 1972 by Helmer Toro and his brother-in-law Hector Hernandez. The two bought out Midtown Bagels at Broadway and 80th Street for $5,000 cash and a $50,000 loan.

Even in the 70s, that amount of money didn’t get you much space in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which meant Helmer and Hector weren’t able to have a big commercial kitchen on-site to bake all of the bagels. To keep up with the demand, they turned to the Asous family who, under the radar, was proudly baking some of the best and well-known bagels in New York City. And unlike Kramer, they weren’t dropping bubble gum in the bagel dough.

Off to New York City

Things started to turn around at Hope College when I began saying small yeses without any idea where the road would go.

First small yes: I decided I wouldn’t visit Midland until spring break. Second: I went to a fraternity rush event, invited by someone I knew from the student council days back at Midland High. Third: I joined this fraternity that was basically the fraternity of guys who aren’t really “frat guys.” And it seemed like a puzzling move. Why would I do this when, less than a year ago, I chose not to go to Kansas and join my brother in his fraternity (the same one my dad and two uncles were part of back in the day)? How did this new chapter make any sort of sense?

But I kept walking forward. And I wasn’t in any sort of zen peaceful state when making these small yeses. I was still trying to regain control of a narrative. I put out a transfer application to Kansas. One to Central Michigan too. I was constantly trying to figure out what my major would be. Fighting to become the author again. In control of the story.

Ever so slowly, I was starting to let go. Met a girl named Ashley from our sister sorority. We knew each other a little bit our freshman and sophomore year, but what we didn’t know is both of us had said a bigger yes to a “study abroad” semester in New York City. We started dating our junior year and come January of 2011, I was finally ready to leave the state of Michigan with the woman I’d eventually marry who — at that point in time — was just Ashley from the Northwest suburbs of Chicago.

Took me awhile, but I had finally said yes to living 12 hours away from home. I hopped on a plane without knowing what was ahead. I looked down at the clouds and, at least for that moment, I let go of being the author of my own story.

This post will end up being partially a profile of the New York Bagel & Deli restaurant in Chicago, part reflections and philosophy. If you enjoy this type of style, you might enjoy the four-part series I did featuring Tango Sur and some Kierkegaard.

And, despite the name, Medium Rare isn’t normally a food blog. But for the next several weeks, every Tuesday, I’ll be featuring great local restaurants around the Lakeview neighborhood in hopes that readers support these spots with pickup & delivery orders now and go in-person later this year. Other posts in the seires include:

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