I consider myself a flexible person: I like to try new foods, music, and movies. The more jazzed someone gets as they tell me about their favorite band/show/activity, the more likely I am to look into it, even if our interests don’t overlap at all.
On the other hand, I like the certainty that comes from knowing exactly what I’m getting myself into. This has rarely inhibited me from trying new things on a small scale, but I always used to approach new long-term projects with trepidation. Doubts would linger in my mind, the only things standing between me and an affirmative answer.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who has been tempted to stick to doing the things that feel “safe” to them: the activities that are familiar or that come most easily. Everyone talks about how important it is to act in the face of uncertainty. It could just be that I’m stubborn, but I truly don’t think that some platitude about breaking out of your comfort zone is as convincing as first-hand experience. Even if you join the basketball team/a book club/a secret society and decide it’s not for you, there was probably some part of the activity that you enjoyed. You’ll be surprised when you think of it, but even three minutes of fun doing something new could help you to be more open the next time an unusual opportunity knocks.
In her memoir Just Kids, Patti Smith talks about moving to New York City; she wanted to be a poet. Readers learn that during Smith’s years in the city she was not only a poet, but also an artist, actress, music journalist, playwright, and musician. When I read the book, I was struck by how open she was to each opportunity that came her way- she said “yes” without agonizing over whether or not to accept an offer. Smith is an excellent writer, but she is best known for the lengthy musical career- a career that came not from musical aspirations, but from saying “yes” to friends who asked her to give songwriting a try.
All of that to say that if no one tried new things, we wouldn’t have Horses. That’s a bad example and a good example all at once; the new thing you’re trying probably won’t pan out so quickly, obviously, but it could totally become something you have an unexpected passion or aptitude for. Taking a chance on something new can change your life, at least in a small way: it helps you to know for sure what you really can or cannot do, what you do or do not like.
Experience has taught me I’ll only ever play soccer informally; on the other hand, camping and working on the school costumes crew were unexpectedly great experiences for me. There are opportunities I’ve missed out on because I was too busy thinking of all of the reasons that participating might be a bad idea; it certainly wouldn’t have hurt me to be considering all of the good that could come my way, instead of fixating on more negative hypothetical outcomes.
To many young people, things seems like they will go on forever; I’m sure I’m not the only teenager who has seen “yes” as an undesirable answer because it seems set in stone. In that mindset, “yes” is a binding commitment that will surely be unbearable if we end up hating whatever we’ve agreed to.
Even if you treat signing up for a particular class or club like you’re signing away your soul, that’s not the case. Most likely you’re just agreeing to do something for a few hours or a few months; that’s not as impossibly long a time as it seems. “Yes” can be binding and official and absolute. But sometimes it just means, “Yes, I’ll try that”. You don’t have much to lose just from trying, so don’t overthink it.
Illustration by Laura