Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Bringing It

On Sunday I went to the first meeting this quarter of the Stanford Roundtable. Being a freshman (as you may be sick of hearing about), I had never been before, and intended to observe only.

But a friendly upperclassman suggested I take a seat at the table. "Get closer to the action," he said. "It'll be fun."

I must admit that I really only made one statement during the entire Roundtable, even though I kept on having thoughts and not articulating them aloud. Everyone else seemed a lot smarter than me (and given that they were mostly upperclassmen, I really hope they were) and my thoughts seemed either too tangential or too personal or too obvious. Thus I stayed silent, which is a problem.

This, I thought as I sat silent at the table, is ridiculous. I got into this university: why do I need to keep justifying my presence to other people? This fear didn't make sense in high school and it only makes less sense now. Wasn't I the one who took as my senior quote the venerable words of Feynman, that "we are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible because only in this way can we find progress"?

Finally the topic turned to global inequality, and I could no longer stay silent. I cleared my throat, put up my hand, and said my thought. Of course there was a gaping hole in it--or there appeared to be--but people considered my words and responded to them and the conversation went on.

Because I spoke up, even if it was just the once, I could count the evening as a step toward a version of myself who is generally competent and confident, who speaks and is heard. If I had stayed silent the whole time, I would have been able to count the evening only as a failure.

I keep telling myself to be patient and let myself grow more accustomed to college before demanding too much of myself. But I also feel, in the back of my thoughts, always, a sense of urgency which has the potential to make my entire existence very stressful. I don't have enough time. I will never have enough time to do all of the things that will make me a better person. I will never have the time--much less the energy--to have all the potentially formative experiences on offer.

Every moment counts. Every decision counts. Courage is a muscle, says Goss, and one must exercise it. Do the right thing as much as possible as often as possible. You do not have enough time.

Note to self: college is expensive. Your parents are paying for you to be here. How dare you half-ass anything?*

*I am not advocating for an unrelenting schedule, nor for 100% uprightness and responsibility for everything around you. If you don't take care of yourself, physically/mentally/emotionally, you will burn out. Take breaks. But when you are on, be on.

I need to do more reaching out. Talk to professors, talk to upperclassmen, start conversations that are over my head. People who were "smart kids" in high school may relate to the fear I have of looking stupid. The instinct is to retreat, to over prepare, not to take any risks that will endanger the one commodity we have: perceived intelligence. But instinct is a poor guide, and defensiveness both stems from and breeds weakness.

All throughout NSO, people kept on throwing advice at us. One thing that everyone said was "talk to professors. Ask them about their work, their interests. Let them get to know you. They won't bite, honest."

I haven't done that yet, but I'm going to. I've identified one professor whose work matches my interests so perfectly that I can't justify not talking to her. (Now that it's public, I'm accountable and I'll have to do it or else be ashamed.) Others exist as well; I know they do, and I'll find them. How can I hope to change the world if I don't even have the courage to knock on a few doors?

Teddy Roosevelt said "speak softly and carry a big stick." But he also said, somewhat more stirringly:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

I want to know victory more than I fear defeat--or at least I think I do. To avoid painful cognitive dissonance, therefore, I must strive. I have something of value in myself: now I have to bring it to the table. Bring it, in general.

Because I'm a connoisseur of bad puns, one more. To the world, I say, bring it on.

Back to work.

1 comment:

  1. Whoa. If you have an existential crisis and suddenly decide you want to switch careers, i vote for motivational speaker

    It's been over two weeks since this post...have you had a chance to talk to your professor? I hope you have :)