One thing that scares you

In 1997, Chicago Tribune journalist Mary Shmich wrote an essay about the value of advice. She set it up like a graduation speech, giving advice to young people getting ready to go out into the world:

“Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out, some world-weary pundit eager to pontificate on life to young people who’d rather be Rollerblading. Most of us, alas, will never be invited to sow our words of wisdom among an audience of caps and gowns, but there’s no reason we can’t entertain ourselves by composing a Guide to Life for Graduates.
I encourage anyone over 26 to try this and thank you for indulging my attempt. Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97:
Wear sunscreen.”

From there, she went on to talk about appreciating youth and beauty, singing, appreciating the nice things people say and more. But what stood out to many was the line “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

This line has been misattributed to at Kurt Vonnegut and Eleanor Roosevelt, and probably other notable people, and no wonder. It’s a damn good line.

I didn’t graduate from high school until 2001, but starting just about the time Smich’s piece came out, I definitely lived by her guidance in this area (not becuase I read her essay, just becuase I was young and dumb). I started high school in 1997, and many days I did things that should have scared me, dumb things like drive too fast, drive high or drunk, or have unprotected sex. It was stereotypical high school stuff, but even after high school I kep up some of the silliness.

Today, as someone working in higher education in a state where legislators have little love for education, I live this line in new ways. Talking about diversity scares me, but I know it needs to happen. Pushing people to do the right thing, even if it’s not the cheap or easy thing, scares me, but must happen.

So Schmich’s advice is often on my mind, and I use it as a tool to nudge myself forward when I feel afraid. And today, I used it to nudge myself forward and apply to give a Ted talk during my region’s TedX event.

I’ve participated in high school and community theatre. I’ve given speeches and presentations. I’ve played piano and answered questions on a stage in front of an audience. So I think I can get up on a stage and give a Ted talk, but maybe I only think that becuase at this point it’s just a dream. But I know that dreaming and being afraid must often go hand-in-hand before any action can take place, so I’m hopeful and optimistic and looking forward to a chance to scare the bejeezus out of myself on a Ted stage one day. That’s sort of like giving a speech at a graduation, eh?

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