Driving to and from Florida for Thanksgiving break, I spent the majority of my car ride jamming out to some new CDs. After a while, the song Taking Chances – originally performed by the one-and-only Celine Dion – made its way through my speakers, its chorus later resonating with me in a way it never had before.
“But what do you say to takin’ chances? / What do you say to jumpin’ off the edge? / Never knowing if there’s solid ground below / Or a hand to hold / Or hell to pay / What do you say? / What do you say?”
Somewhere in South Carolina, I found myself mindlessly belting the aforesaid words, not really taking a moment to consider my answers to these lyrical questions. Perhaps it was because I knew I wouldn’t like my answers. Or maybe it was because I wasn’t completely sure of my answers. Either way, I just kept singing, not really letting the gravity of these words sink in.
However, since being back at Elon, it’s been practically impossible to push these words from my mind. With the semester coming to a close and my calendar producing new meetings, deadlines, and projects at rapid speed, I begin to wonder if I’m bound for success or failure. I consider cutting corners. I assess the risks associated with these new and continued endeavors, straining to see their rewards through a haze of anxious “what-ifs.” I spiral into a restless bundle of nerves, unable to produce and move forward because I’m temporarily paralyzed by what might go wrong. I’m worried that there won’t be “solid ground below / or a hand to hold.” I’m terrified that there might be “hell to pay” after all.
But then I remember one of my favorite quotations from the movie Coach Carter . . .
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Suddenly, I realize that my fear of failure is nothing compared to my fear of greatness. And this is because greatness is terrifying. It forces me to live up to and accept other peoples’ faith in my abilities. It generates power, cultivates responsibility, and necessitates executive decision-making. Greatness demands that I actually believe in the confident façade that I so often put on for others. It challenges my definition of comfort, forcing me to grow in ways that might not always be easy.
But why in the world am I terrified of living up to my potential, having power, accepting responsibility, being confident, making a difference, and growing as a human being? Are these not some of the most rewarding parts about getting older, finding your passion, and moving the world forward?
Of course they are. So from this day forward, I’m choosing to see them as such. I’m saying yes to “takin’ chances,” I’m bracing myself for “jumpin’ off the edge,” and I’m using my greatness to create “solid ground below.”
With two professional degrees in English, I’ve done my fair share of writing about literature. I’ve analyzed it, deconstructed it, and re-appropriated it, among other things. I’ve followed MLA guidelines like recipes from a cookbook, careful not to deviate for fear of spoiling the final product. However, on October 25th of this year, I was handed new guidelines, APA guidelines to be exact. On that Friday, Jason and I met to discuss developments and next steps for the Elon 101 TA Program, giving careful consideration to changes already made and changes yet to come. We weren’t long into the meeting before he mentioned the inevitable: putting all of these changes, ideas, and initiatives into a nice, neat package to share with others: an Elon 101/TA Fall 2013 Report to be exact. I was immediately comfortable with this idea, eager to start gathering and analyzing results from the TA survey, creating appendices out of TA emails and initiatives, and putting together a timeline for the spring semester.
But just a moment later, Jason said two words that stopped me dead in my tracks: Literature Review.
I’m fine with the word literature. I’m also fine with the word review. But the second he put those words side by side, I could feel my capable, young, professional self wither away into the shell of a timid college sophomore who’d just received her first B on . . . you guessed it . . . a literature review. I felt scared and fraudulent, unsure if I’d actually be able to do what he was asking of me. If I couldn’t pull together a literature review of Gloria Anzaldúa’s work on the new mestiza after an entire semester of Theory and Criticism, how was I ever going to produce a literature review of peer leadership and mentoring in higher education? My degrees aren’t even in higher education. I’ve never even used APA.
Nevertheless, I took a chance.
Instead of divulging my fear, I put on my best poker face and accepted the challenge willingly. “You have two degrees in English,” I told myself. “You know how to research. You know how to analyze. You know how to write. Apply those transferable skills you’re always talking about, and get to work.” And so I did. I scoured through databases like PSYCinfo, SocINDEX, ERIC, and JSTOR, finally coming across 5 articles, all of which addressed the nascent stages, current climate, and future implications of peer leadership and mentoring in higher education. While 5 may not seem like a lot, I was careful to look for articles whose lessons could be directly applied to an institution like Elon, taking into consideration things like size, affordability, demographics, public vs. private designation, and finally, the use of peer leaders and/or mentors in first-year seminars.
It didn’t take long before I was up to my eyeballs in new theories, new approaches, and a ton of great ideas, many of which are outlined (and were well-received) in the 12 page lit review that came about just from taking a chance.
In the coming weeks, the fun will continue as Jason and I put the finishing touches on our Elon 101/TA Fall 2013 Report. Brace yourselves for charts, graphs, and appendices galore as well as some exciting new developments!