The state of risk-taking at Middlebury

When’s the last time you took a risk? When’s the last time you did something that made you uncomfortable, the last time a decision you made came out of a place of courage and boldness, of reacting more from your gut than your head? Can you think of the last time you did something without knowing what the result would be, the last time you stood in front of someone or something knowing that this could be your undoing could be the beginning of something beautiful or the beginning of something horrible could be the beginning of something that you couldn’t even imagine? When’s the last time you allowed yourself to be that vulnerable, to be that reckless? I ask these questions because I am of the firm belief that we don’t take enough risks. We being all of the members of this college community: Me, You, the students, the faculty. We don’t take risks and we don’t encourage others to take risks and we’ve somehow managed to create a small world where this risklessness is not only okay, but also celebrated, both inside the classroom and in the social stratosphere.

If you’re anything like me, each new class demands not only the learning of new material but also the learning and adapting of one’s writing style to align with the desires of the new professor. Papers become reiterations, regarglings of things said by the professor in class and even though you might have the inner desire to spit all that garbage out and furiously release your specific and, perhaps, contrary ideals and beliefs on paper, you know that this could potentially result in a lower grade. So do you take the risk or do you conform to the beliefs of the professor and which is the correct decision? Is it worth it to rail against the anti-feminist reading of your Shakespeare professor’s analysis of Taming of the Shrew knowing that he’ll think your argument invalid and unscholarly or do you muddle through and agree that, yes, Petruchio really does have Kate’s best interests in mind and that any sort of distress she goes through is worth it in the end because she winds up with a macho heteronormative soul mate of a husband and that his love and affection is all the reward she deserves for having finally learned how to behave “correctly”? How many of us actually write with honesty and conviction exactly what we feel and believe to be true and how many of us throw away our own beliefs to make it through a class, excusing risk-taking for academic survival?

And what of social survival? If we don’t take risks in the classroom, we certainly don’t take them in social situations. If the constant barrage of emails from senior Psych majors is any indication of what the climate of love is like on this campus, I would say it’s a pretty flawed and broken thing. And where does this come from? Apathy? Lack of action? For me, it seems to be a lack of risk-taking. I’m guilty of it, you’re guilty of it, we’re all guilty of not latching on to the thousands of small potential risks that float and hover around every conversation, every interaction we have with one another.

We don’t take the risk to ask each other out on dates because we’re nervous that someone will say no and then we get sad and downtrodden and then we complain about dating and then we don’t do anything about it because we’re too busy commiserating with this person over wine and with this person over an episode of Downton Abbey and with ourselves alone at night when we’re deciding whether or not to text someone something that we may or may not instantly regret. The weight of all the great, wonderful, soaring risks we could take sinks into our shoulders and isn’t it just the most exhausting thing in the world to know that something could happen but being utterly unable to take that first little step the first little move in a direction that may or may not be the right one but at least it would be a first move forward?

I say let’s be done with this. I say let’s be done with not telling a stranger you think they’re beautiful because you’re afraid that they might think it’s weird. Who doesn’t want to be called beautiful? I say let’s be done with writing papers for anyone other than ourselves, because we’re smart and we’ve done our homework and if we’re going to write something completely zany and incorrect well then let’s do it in a big and beautiful and loud way. I say let’s be done with being comfortable with not saying things or doing things because we’re worried the risk won’t be worth it. Risks are always worth it because they teach you how to be bold, how to pick up the pieces when you fail, how to be courageous and open to this crazy world.

So take a risk, do something totally different, something that makes you uncomfortable.

You might be surprised at the results.


2 thoughts on “The state of risk-taking at Middlebury

  1. Cody – nice one. I think Dave Eggers would agree (see below). Thanks for being so good at being you. Miss you bud.

    “The thing is, I really like saying yes. I like new things, projects, plans, getting people together and doing something, trying something, even when it’s corny or stupid. I am not good at saying no. And I do not get along with people who say no. When you die, and it really could be this afternoon, under the same bus wheels I’ll stick my head if need be, you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no’s you’ve said. No to that opportunity, or no to that trip to Nova Scotia or no to that night out, or no to that project or no to that person who wants to be naked with you but you worry about what your friends will say.
    No is for wimps. No is for (word removed). No is to live small and embittered, cherishing the opportunities you missed because they might have sent the wrong message.
    There is a point in one’s life when one cares about selling out and not selling out. One worries whether or not wearing a certain shirt means that they are behind the curve or ahead of it, or that having certain music in one’s collection means that they are impressive, or unimpressive.

    Thankfully, for some, this all passes. I am here to tell you that I have, a few years ago, found my way out of that thicket of comparison and relentless suspicion and judgment. And it is a nice feeling. Because, in the end, no one will ever give a shit who has kept shit ‘real’ except the two or three people, sitting in their apartments, bitter and self-devouring, who take it upon themselves to wonder about such things. The keeping real of shit matters to some people, but it does not matter to me. It’s fashion, and I don’t like fashion, because fashion does not matter.

    What matters is that you do good work. What matters is that you produce things that are true and will stand. What matters is that the Flaming Lips’s new album is ravishing and I’ve listened to it a thousand times already, sometimes for days on end, and it enriches me and makes me want to save people. What matters is that it will stand forever, long after any narrow-hearted curmudgeons have forgotten their appearance on goddamn 90210. What matters is not the perception, nor the fashion, not who’s up and who’s down, but what someone has done and if they meant it. What matters is that you want to see and make and do, on as grand a scale as you want, regardless of what the tiny voices of tiny people say. Do not be critics, you people, I beg you. I was a critic and I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me, and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a fuckload of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but Christ, that is what matters. What matters is saying yes. “

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