I often describe myself as a cautious person.
“I don’t like change,” I tell people. “I like to follow the rules.”
In fact, if you ask my closest friends to describe me, they’ll likely mention that my catchphrase is I can’t. Obviously I exaggerate, but I think I do myself some harm by constantly reinforcing such a limiting message. Especially because it isn’t true.
I realize that most of the defining experiences in my life have come out of moments of uncertainty. They’ve come from me seeing an opportunity and facing it head on without any idea of what might happen.
Take high school, for example. In my junior year, I joined an after-school program called Building with Books (now BuildOn). I imagined I’d go to the meetings, hang out with my friends for a little bit, and that would be it. Of course, I was wrong.
The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Nicaragua with a bunch of other kids I barely knew, on my way to spend two weeks with a strange family who spoke no English so that I could help build a school for their village.
Now, that I look back it, it seems completely ridiculous and unlike me. But it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.
Nicaragua was fun.. But I still wasn’t brave enough to do this. I wish I had!
Later in college, I signed up for the newspaper because I knew that I wanted to write. After a semester of writing, I was offered the position of Features Editor, which scared the crap out of me. I didn’t think I was ready. I’d had a plan: I was supposed to write for a year, possibly become an assistant or maybe an editor, then slowly move up. With any luck, maybe I’d have an executive position in my senior year.
Instead, this happened: I took Features, then ran for managing editor the next semester, and by the end of my sophomore year when some unforeseen events took place, I was editor-in-chief of the paper.
I don’t know if anyone could tell, but I was terrified.
An image comes to mind of this time when I was maybe 10 and some other kids and I put a puppy on top of a table. It felt totally out of place. It would approach the edge skittishly, trying to find a way down, and then scurry back to the center of the table as soon as it saw how far away the floor was.
That’s kind of how I felt. And there were times when it felt like too much. I had tons of fears at first —like being too young, not relating to everyone, being unsure about whether I was good enough.. But again, the paper completely shaped my college experience.
There have been smaller moments, like the time I was asked to attend a dinner hosted by my scholarship donor to speak about my experiences. Although I’m not deathly terrified of public speaking, I’m not a huge fan either, and the thought of having to speak to a huge crowd of people at a fancy reception was a little nerve-wracking. But I said yes, and ended up spending an AMAZING day at the donors’ house in The Hamptons. Definitely no regrets there!
Some of my greatest moments have come from me facing my fears —whether it’s school or work or relationships, I realize I’m a huge fan of embracing the unknown, whether or not I knew it. The feeling of having survived is the greatest thrill.
Of course, I’m no daredevil. And there are still a lot of things I’d like to do, like travel, that I keep putting off with all sorts of excuses. But knowing what I know now, I think it’s time to jump in.