I started campaigning to go to public school near the end of 8th grade.
Like almost every major decision I’ve ever made, I spent an impressive amount of time waffling between pros and cons, ultimately concluding that I was unsure of either option. Super helpful. Also: classic. But after going to a small Christian school and then being homeschooled, I knew I was going to die inside if I didn’t start experiencing new people and new challenges.
When I first brought it up, my dad told me I could go to public school “when hell froze over on the 4th of July.” Good start. But over time, Hades became unseasonably cold and I was officially allowed to go to public school. I don’t remember why my dad changed his mind. I should ask. But I do remember thinking I had made a terrible mistake as soon as I found out I would have to run a full mile in gym class and that my parents, perhaps as their last laugh, had signed me up for Intro to Theater to “help me come out of my shell.” (Not cool, you guys.)
Let’s just face facts: I started high school as the human personification of awkward. I didn’t understand where my locker was or have any confidence in my ability to navigate the hallways between classes, so I carried every single one of my textbooks on my back for at least a full week. I looked like a pack mule with limited fashion sense. That first lunch (a slice of pepperoni pizza and a carton of chocolate milk, something that was never repeated and also never forgotten) was spent with the one person I knew from church and a bunch of her friends. I was painfully out of place so I made an excuse to leave and spent the rest of lunch locked in a bathroom stall. I was like the 14-year-old version of Bambi, clumsily learning how to walk on weak, spindly legs.
But then, much sooner than I expected, it got better.
I made my first friend in theater class (thanks, Mom and Dad). He’s still a friend to this day. Many of my first friends are still friends to this day (hi, Jaclyn!). Once I figured out how to be a teenager and how to stay after school for help in Earth Science, I started thriving. And now, I can’t imagine how different my life would have been if I hadn’t taken the risk and come out on the other side with lifelong friends and a newfound desire to go to college.
There have been several similar points in my life. They have all been slant route-y in nature and marked by the all-consuming conviction that I need to change directions and do a thing that scares me, even if the exact reason why is still unclear.
Last week felt like the latest slant.
I’ve been a huge fan of charity: water for a long time, and now, somehow, I get to work for them. It’s an actual dream job, one I never expected I would have a chance to say yes to. Returning to the nonprofit world in a full-time capacity was not something I expected to say yes to.
But, just as 14-year-old me knew I had to make the uncomfortable jump into public school, 32-year-old me knew I needed to say yes to this. So I did, quickly, before I could talk myself out of it.
It’s only been one week, but I’m already remembering how much power there is in saying yes to something you were tempted to say no to in fear. I thought I had learned that last summer after the much-debated trip to Green Bay. I’m relearning it now.
I’m also remembering how much power there is in beginnings. I could try to say something eloquent about that, but John O’Donohue says it better.
“Perhaps the art of harvesting the secret riches of our lives is best achieved when we place profound trust in the act of beginning. Risk might be our greatest ally. To live a truly creative life, we always need to cast a critical look at where we presently are, attempting always to discern where we have become stagnant and where new beginning might be ripening. There can be no growth if we do not remain open and vulnerable to what is new and different. I have never seen anyone take a risk for growth that was not rewarded a thousand times over.”
He was also kind enough to provide a TL;DR version: “May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.”
He’s spot on about basically everything, but that zinger in particular makes me feel all the emotions. Because it’s so, so true. It takes courage to move from safe places. They’re so nice and known and comfortable.
But as far as I can tell, saying yes to something that scares you is almost always worth it—even if the adjustment period finds you looking like a terrified pack mule.
Unfortunately, that applies to high school and also to navigating Penn Station at 8:30 am last week, though hopefully my fashion sense is a little stronger this time around.