A couple months ago, my 5 year old niece invited me to her private swim lesson. She’d graduated from using floaties and was excited to show me all the new swimming she could do. In front of a rather large audience for the occasion (4 family members and the swim instructor’s dad), Rosie practiced her little heart out.
She kick-boarded, blew bubbles underwater, and dog-paddled. Practicing jumping into the pool, she repeatedly belly-flopped. Each time, she said she was fine, swam to the stairs, and walked to the edge to try again. Finally, her instructor told her it was time to practice swimming under water. This was the big thing.
Her instructor stood a few feet away from a step in the pool, and Rosie would swim the distance between underwater. At first, Rosie did well, and she was all focus. Gradually, the instructor moved further away making the swim a little bit further. At one distance, Rosie tried a couple times unsuccessfully, and she hesitated before starting again. She said, “I don’t think I can do it.” Her gift of an instructor didn’t miss a beat and replied, “I think you can do anything you want to. You just have to learn how to do it.” Sure enough, Rosie tried again and she made it.
I was so grateful to be there for this particular moment. Getting to see Rosie try her hardest at something and overcoming self-doubt and fear was incredible. I was definitely a proud aunt. More than that though, I was inspired. This girl goes out there everyday with challenges to learn, make friends, and develop skills. With her heart on her sleeve and a smile on her face she goes for it. Thank goodness she’s supported and encouraged along the way. Thank goodness she sees her effort being worth the risk.
I have thought about this little moment often this semester. As I face challenges in developing new skills, navigating relationships, and a stressful workload, I battle self-doubt of my own. I sometimes wonder if I am up for it or if I’m the right person for a job. Sometimes I am unsure if I should voice my opinion or share my ideas. Should I tell someone how I’m feeling, or just leave it alone? Will it matter if I do? Sometimes I question my judgement.
When I’m out of my comfort zone, it gives me peace to think of Rosie’s brave moment. I know growing will be hard. I know putting myself out there and trying to be something more than I am already is risky. I don’t know that I’ll be rewarded. People may not support me. They may not care what I say or may think it’s dumb. They may be mad that I have anything to say at all or be mean when I do. I’m in school to become an “expert,” a PhD. My career and professional reputation is on the line with how I use my voice. So is the well-being of those I am meaning to help by using my expertise.
In this process of really hard work and intensive self-analyzation, I recognize that I feel the need for courage in speaking out in another area in which I have expertise: my personal life. It takes bravery to have tough conversations with family members, to show your feelings in a new relationship, and even to try to run as fast as I can.
These feelings that have been brewing all semester overflowed in the last week watching Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimony. As she shared her knowledge and experience with the world in a moment of pure courage, we saw the painful instance of lack of support and encouragement. We saw the risk as maybe not being worth the reward (though I would never say it was for nothing- she has inspired so many).
Right now, our social and political infrastructure tell us to be safe, not take risks, not grow or improve. They tell us to be quiet and be comfortable. I feel it at every level.
From academic departments, to government officials, to friends, to dates, to family relationships. Messages are clear: don’t innovate or create, keep the status quo. Know your place. You are not important.
It sucks we have to battle this mindset, this mood of the country. I love the art, the music that speaks out against that narrative. Today when I was running, Leela James’s version of “A Change Is Gonna Come” came on my radio station. It is so honest to the experience of the tension between hope and struggle. It gave me strength. Just like memories of Dr. Blasey-Ford’s brave testimony and Rosie’s brave swim lesson do.
I’m resolved to find the less dominant “go for it” narrative in all I can. For as long as I can keep it up, I am hearing only “you’re worth it,” “you matter,” and “you make a difference.” It’s going to be in messages I give to myself and others. It will be evident in my music choice, my running, my routines, my conversations, and my media choices.
Risk-taking is always going to be hard, but I think we can make it easier by immersing ourselves in hope and support.