Posts Tagged ‘Cary Tennis’

And so a self-assured, kick-ass student we’ll call Jena followed me up to my office after the first day of class last week.  We made some idle chit-chat for a minute or two and then she got down to it:  She wasn’t sure she was going to stick it out.  Why?  For the first time ever, she confessed, a class had scared her shitless – as in, a knot in her stomach that kicked her clear out of her comfort zone.

To which my only response was this: “That’s terrific.”

Fear can be the best signal that you’re about to grow, to learn something new, to take a taste of something you thought was beyond you.  Harness it, and it’s often a source of power.  It’s all about stretching the muscles, as Salon’s Cary Tennis wrote to a teary grad student who was ready to flick it all in:

It hurts. You feel weak at first. Then you keep doing it and you get the muscles. Then you can do things you couldn’t do before.

It will always hurt a little. If it doesn’t hurt a little you’re not doing it right.

Love that. All of which got me thinking about the danger of the comfort zone, that safe little territory that keeps us from taking risks.

Now, you’ll never catch one of us (okay, me) jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.  Or white-water rafting.  Or even climbing to the top of a ladder.  But the two of us do share a healthy love of the kind of risk-taking that pushes women to throw themselves out there, to make those leaps of faith that get us past our initial fears.  In fact, what we believe is that the minute we realize we’re afraid to do something new, afraid to ask for what we want, maybe that’s precisely when we should jump out of the proverbial plane.  Men do that. Why shouldn’t we?

Take the case of Abby, a smart twenty-something we interviewed for our book.  She started out in journalism, left that gig for a job doing PR for a nonprofit, and then traded that one for a job doing PR for another nonprofit. She loved the job at first, but soon outgrew it, and interviewed for two new jobs – one that was merely good, and the other that was great.  She felt good about both interviews, and put in her two-weeks notice.  Risky business, right? That same day, she was offered the merely good job – but heard nothing from the great one.  So she played some guts ball.  She turned down the offer from the merely good job – and waited for an offer for the job she really wanted.  A few days later, it came.

Clearly, it could have gone either way.  But she made a choice, took a risk, and look how it turned out.

The conventional wisdom is that risk-taking is linked to testosterone, that women aren’t all that good at it.  But what we wonder is this: is risk-taking defined solely in terms of skateboarding without a helmet or driving too fast on curvy roads?  And is it nature or nurture, in that we girls have been conditioned to believe that our role is to play it safe?  Have we been too protected by doting parents who decided their role was to save us from ourselves?

Boys will be boys, but girls should be safe?

A recent study out of Columbia University suggests that gender disparities when it comes to risk taking may be different than what we assume.  It’s all pretty complex, writes Rick Nauert PhD, Senior News Editor of Psych Central:

Men are willing to take more risks in finances. But women take more social risks—a category that includes things like starting a new career in your mid-30s or speaking your mind about an unpopular issue in a meeting at work.

The researchers say that experience greatly influences the type of risk-taker a person may become and this explains why women and men perceive risks differently.

“If you have more experience with a risky situation, you may perceive it as less risky,” [said Bernd Figner, Ph.D., who cowrote the paper with Elke Weber, Ph.D]

Differences in how boys and girls encounter the world as they’re growing up may make them more comfortable with different kinds of risks.

Stuff to think about, right?  Meanwhile, back to Jena.  Day two, there she was.  Sitting front and center, flashing me a smile.  Giving it a shot.  And looking confident, indeed.

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Yesterday in Cary Tennis’ advice column in Salon.com, he doled out some wisdom to a tormented soon-to-be law student. Or maybe not. In her letter, “Terrified” has this to say:

With every day that passes, I am fighting a rising sense of utter panic. I don’t know if I want to do this. I have been working my whole life toward this moment… all with my eye on the prize of admission to law school and an eventual J.D. My father is a lawyer and since I was a little girl I have dreamed about following in his footsteps. The problem, I think, is that law school has been my goal for so long that I’ve never really stopped to examine it, and now I’m afraid that it’s way too late to change my mind… Despite the fact that my dad and I are very similar people, he never had experiences like mine. My priorities are just… well, different. He graduated from a state law school and has practiced in his home state ever since. I am a mover; I yearn to go; I don’t want to stay in one place and work myself to the bone… When I think about being a lawyer, I panic. In my heart I’ve always wanted to be a writer.

My heart bleeds for the girl—maybe because I’ve been there. Haven’t we all? That unpleasant place where it feels as though you’re on cruise control, being driven by inertia, watching the time go by, second-guessing every decision you’ve ever made that’s brought you to this point, and convinced that stopping the train would take strength of superhuman proportions. “Terrified” describes feeling that it’s “way too late” to change directions. I stuck on those words, let my mind ramble, and lingered on a thought: do you ever hear men talk this way? Do you think the message we as women are fed—that our stock goes down as our age goes up—makes us extra conscious of the clock, an underlying worry that seeps into everything, intensifying the pressure we feel every time we find ourselves at a crossroads? And then there’s Jack Welch’s “women can’t have it all” comment, which Barbara blogged about yesterday. It’s 2009, and still we fight that idea, even as we internalize it: if I can’t have it all, I better pick wisely. And in a hurry. The clock’s a-tickin’.

Tennis’ advice? Think happy thoughts, go to law school. You can always drop out if you change your mind.

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