Take the risk

May 21, 2016

I’m not sure I’ve read a better summary of my journey through life than these words by Edward St. Aubyn:

“He knew that under the tall grass of an apparently untamed future the steel rails of fear and habit were already laid. What he suddenly couldn’t bear, with every cell in his body, was to act out the destiny prepared for him by his past, and slide obediently along those rails, contemplating bitterly all the routes he would rather have taken.”

One of the most overwhelming themes in my life is fear. I spent most of my life bound by it.

I didn’t realize while I was living it, but in hindsight, if I was asked to choose just one word to describe my emotional state for the first thirty years of my life, it would be “terrified.”

What was I so afraid of?

Oh, you name it – everything from nuclear annihilation to pursuing my interest in writing. 

Even happiness – and the changes I needed to make in my life in order to attain it – seemed daunting.

I consistently chose the safest route. When life forced me to take risks, I took the least risky of all available options, even if it wasn’t what would have ultimately been best for me.

For example, I was accepted into two graduate programs.

One was located right there where I was living at the time. The program was respectable. It was a career program – designed to prepare students for a profession in journalism.

It had a class-based curriculum. You could choose whether to take traditional final exams or write a thesis in order to graduate.

The other required a move across the country. It was an academic program. Students were expected to choose an emphasis and design their own master’s experience, with the guidance of faculty.

Graduation was dependent upon a published thesis.

It was highly respected as one of the best journalism graduate programs in the nation. The program only selected a limited number of students every year. To be chosen was an honor.

Guess which program I chose?

I have a master’s degree that has served me well as a foundation for my career. But I’ve never written a thesis.

 It isn’t that I regret my choice. I made wonderful friends during graduate school and I loved living in the Midwest.

And certainly I learned a great deal in the school I chose. I’m proud to be an alumna.

But I can’t help but wonder what my life would be like if I’d taken the bigger risk.

Maybe I’d have failed. Maybe the program would have proven too rigorous for me and I’d have dropped out.

 But I doubt it. I tend to stick with things, if for no other reason than quitting requires change, and change is scary.

I love my life, especially the husband and kids I probably wouldn’t have had I made a different choice.

I believe I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing at this particular moment in time.

Still, it is interesting to consider what my life might look like had I made that move across the country.

As graduation looms for high school seniors, I offer this advice:            

Failure and hardship are a part of life, so living in fear is senseless. Struggle is going to happen either way. Except sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, against all logic and reason, things go right. You’ll never know if you don’t try. Take the risk.

This article first appeared in the Lewistown News-Argus and the Sidney (Mont.) Herald on May 21, 2016.