On Risk and Reward

I have never been much of a gambler. When my family plays games that require taking chances, I am always the safe bet, the one who’d rather take a little with confidence than risk it all for more. I like my ducks in a row, my plans backed up, and my life surprise-free.

Maybe part of it’s my upbringing: I was raised by an alcoholic’s daughter and a chronic gambler’s grandson, who homeschooled me for half my life. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but the side effect was that I grew up in a very insular world, full of parents who decided they didn’t want their children to make the same mistakes they made in high school. I was told (and perhaps I took it too seriously) that I had to be careful with my heart, because once I gave it away, that was that, nothing to it. Staying “emotionally pure” was the goal; I distinctly remember being told that sharing prayer requests with a young man or asking him to keep you accountable was too intimate and could lead to one of you falling too far. Needless to say, I definitely didn’t go through any heartbreaks (unless you count watching someone walk away and wondering if you should have said anything).

Then again, it could just be my personality: I am a chronic worrier. My parents both drink in moderation and know their limits, but it never stopped me from concerns about drunk driving; my friends began to pursue relationships, and it never occurred to me that fretting about potential heartbreak wasn’t the right reaction; my classmates procrastinated, and I always got stressed on their behalf. I also just don’t like change, full stop. When I was five years old, my parents bought new canisters for coffee, flour, and sugar, replacing the old ones. The new ones were black, the old ones were white, and I cried for an hour. I’ve always liked constancy and routine and tradition, and avoiding risk is a remarkably good preservative, especially when all you can see in the alternative is absolute ruin.

At any rate, I have been extraordinarily risk-averse pretty much my entire life; heck, I’ve never even changed haircuts too drastically in case I didn’t like the results. But college has changed that; in stepping away from the culture I grew up in, I’ve had a chance to start thinking for myself (and it’s very scary and hard and I don’t always like it). It might, then, just be a logical extension of the transition away from childhood that I defied a lot of what I’d grown up believing, and took the biggest risk of my life pretty recently.

I don’t want to go into too many details, since this isn’t that sort of blog, but I will say it didn’t pay off. Here’s the important thing: it wasn’t that bad. I mean, it was awkward and weird, and things didn’t go the way I had hoped, but… I’m okay.

Lesson learned: rejection hurts less than wasted potential.

I guess you could say that it did pay off, just not in the way that I expected. After all, now that things have gone wrong, I know that I can take it. I’m not looking forward to some of the moving-on bits, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s not too much.

The strangest part is that I don’t feel all broken up about it. Instead, I feel more like a baby bird. This time I fell, but the next time I’ll go farther and higher, and one of these days, I’ll fly.

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