I’ve been thinking a lot about risk lately. It’s natural, perhaps, given my life situation. I received tenure a little over a year ago. Barring any hugely unforeseen circumstances, I can work at my same job until I retire. The thought is both comforting and terrifying. A few of my friends have taken impressive career risks lately, or are contemplating them. Their bravery inspires me. Others have shared similarly inspiring stories of striking out on their own, stepping into the unknown to pursue their dreams. I’d still like to find a way to write full time, although I recognize that even if I publish a book or two in the next few years, writing full time is still a pipe dream.
The guiding question of my sabbatical has been, “what do I want to accomplish before I die?” The summer before I went up for tenure, a senior colleague warned me that the tenure process messes with your mind. Even if you’re 100% confident in your case, it still plays mind games with you. Flash forward to me, a few months later, paralyzed at my desk while printing out articles I’d written, debating whether or not I should print them one-sided (increases the thickness of the binder) or two-sided (demonstrates my commitment to the environment). Let’s note for the record that neither thickness of binder nor environmental commitment were tenure criteria. (And don’t even get me started on the mania surrounding binder labels.)
I don’t have an answer to the question, by the way, of what I want to accomplish before I die. I have ideas, of course, but I feel a little lost at the moment. I wish this is the part of the post where I announce a new endeavor or surprise readers by stating I’m moving to Europe. I’m not. I started a new endeavor this past fall by making writing a central part of my life. I started this blog, sent my book out to agents, began a new manuscript and started submitting stories to contests and magazines.
But I feel stuck.
There are canyons of snow outside my window, the likes of which I haven’t seen since I was a child. Work has its own set of difficulties, as most workplaces do. I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up. The pleasures of sabbatical are infinite but, like all things, will come to an end. No wonder I feel stuck.
I remind myself that I have taken risks. I call myself a writer first and foremost. I send bits of me out to magazine editors, agents and contest judges on a weekly basis. I am taking risk, maybe not as much as I could but definitely more than I was. The idea of taking risks always sounds so exciting and glamorous, like jumping out a window and trusting James Bond will catch you. (I don’t watch a lot of Bond movies – this happens, right? If not, it should.) I’m discovering the realities of risk are not so glamorous. There’s a lot of waiting, uncertainty, anxiety and doubt. (Aha, doubt – hello, my old friend.)
The interwebz tells me that Goethe had this to say about risk: “The dangers in life are infinite, and among them is safety.” (I’m being a bad librarian here and not tracking down the exact source. Forgive me.) The quote is inspiring, even though all I really want to do is go lie on the couch and watch Austenland. But I will remind myself that even in this state between risk and result, I’ve still taken that first step. Yay me.
To my faithful readers, I invite you to share stories of risk in the comments. What motivates you? Do you experience doubt? What risks do you want to take but haven’t?
PS: the photo is my cat Nils, who also feels stuck, but for different reasons