I’m a fairly high-strung person. Not high-strung in the sense that I’m always intense, but high-strung in the sense that I start worrying about the weather two weeks before a flight. I think it boils down to me just being a nervous person. I’m undoubtedly the most cautious of my friends, religiously avoiding risks and explaining why, in fact, their ideas are bad, unsafe, or plain dumb. Yeah, I’m that friend. It’s not all bad, though: in general, I get the feeling that the people I spend time with appreciate my risk-calculating approach because I oftentimes have a legitimate concern or am just plain right.
In my senior year of high school I got into a big argument with one of my best friends. I don’t remember what the argument was about, where it came from, or how it ended, but two years later I remember one thing from the conversation: “I think taking risks is an important part of life,” my friend told me. Given that we were arguing, I patently disagreed with her, explaining exactly why following a motto that encouraged risk-taking was ridiculous. But in the days that followed, I couldn’t stop thinking about what she said: why was I so afraid to take risks? Maybe she had a point. Maybe, I thought, taking risks was important.
As I considered what she’d said, I couldn’t wrap my head around knowingly doing something with clear negative consequences—this just sounded like a bad idea. In my mind, good ideas didn’t have big consequences. Maybe I poorly executed my ideas, but a good idea certainly wouldn’t produce too much bad. Good ideas took place in a realm that I understood, in a place where I controlled my world. On the other hand, I began to think that maybe learning to take risks was an essential part of life. After all, no risk, no reward, right? Maybe learning to take risks was something I had to do in order to grow as a person. Maybe learning to take risks was even more important for me because I so knowingly wanted to avoid them. Maybe my friend was right.
Our conversation took place during a crucial part of my life. I was about to graduate from high school, about to spend five weeks backpacking around Western Europe, and about to go to college. In addition to these factors, my mom had instilled in me the notion that college was about trying new things—stepping outside of my comfort zone and challenging myself. My mom’s words taken with my conversation with my friend led me to think that college was going to be about stepping outside of my comfort zone and making myself uncomfortable.
And so during my first years at Amherst I’ve urged myself to take risks and overcome my nervousness. While it hasn’t been easy, it has been fun. This past Fall Break I went with friends to Montreal and the only plan we made was a reservation at the hostel we slept in. My suitemates and I have hosted a get-together for a group of people much larger than I felt comfortable having in our suite (although, to be fair, my friends essentially disregarded my adamant disapproval). I’ve done my best, but found that taking risks is harder than I thought.
What have I learned? Well, to start, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned that no matter how hard I try, no matter how desperately I wish I were a little more relaxed, I really am very cautious. Even if my friends lovingly refer to me as “mom” (which they do), I’ve learned that there’s nothing wrong with that because it’s who I am. There is a time and place for taking risks, and so while I do what I can to grow as a person whenever the opportunity arises, I also recognize my limitations, accepting myself for who I am.
My nervousness affects the way I interact with people, too. I don’t like making a fool of myself, and I particularly don’t like feeling judged or people being unhappy with me. I’m not entirely sure why this is, maybe it’s a self-esteem issue on my part, but I genuinely try to avoid conflict. But here’s my problem: in the spirit of growing as a person, I feel I ought to take a chance and put myself (my words, my thoughts) out there for people to see. Why should I do this? Because it’s exactly what I don’t want to do.
And so here I am, writing for a blog, being bold. Here I am, taking a risk, trying to step outside of my comfort zone. Here are my thoughts. I hope you appreciate them, but if you don’t, that’s ok, because the fact that you don’t means that I took a risk.
* picture from http://www.riskassessmentexample.org/risk-assessment-worksheet.php