There is something special about spending a week away from the “real world.” Having just returned from Spring Break in Pisgah National Forest for my second P-Wild outing at Duke, I find myself already longing for the complicatedly simple life that the wild offers. While backpacking, I was able to fleetingly forget about an upcoming plethora of common Duke concerns (exams, summer plans, an oddly loathed LDOC lineup) to instead focus my energy on living in the moment. Though a cliché, disconnecting from routine Duke culture can be incredibly reinvigorating.
Before each P-Wild trip, I grow anxious and worry about the challenges I know I will face. While backpacking, it is easy to find 99 problems—and it often seems like the cold is every single one of them, but it is not. There’s also an eerie absence of toilets, deodorant, cell phones, razors (not that I particularly need razors to begin with) and other common signs of civilized life that usually allow me to live comfortably in my cozy Duke dorm room. The physical, mental and emotional difficulties of backpacking help me to more fully appreciate the comfort of my life at Duke but simultaneously lead me to believe that individual growth begins with a willingness to sometimes depart from what feels comfortable.
I joined P-Wild on an impulse. Lost somewhere within six seasons of Lost at the end of Fall semester my freshman year, I decided it would be a good idea to learn how to survive in the wilderness in case I ever ended up stranded on an island with a bunch of animals and mythical creatures that might want to eat me. I retreated to Blackwell’s multipurpose room and discovered a graceful and friendly P-Wilder, Katherine Chernova, who encouraged me to take the program’s house course in the Spring. I worried about aggressively inserting myself into what I perceived as an already-solidified community at Duke, but Katherine assuaged my fears with her assurances that I would not regret signing up. I had always regretted choosing not to participate in a pre-orientation program at the beginning of the year and thought that the house course might be the perfect way to mold a new experience for myself at Duke.
Much to my initial distress and eventual relief, the house course was less about proper spear-throwing technique and more about the importance of experiences on personal development. Every week, I returned ready for new daily themes that served as the mediums through which I could hear others’ experiences and share my own. One night in particular felt very metaphysical when the leaders discussed the significance of risk-taking. While I had bungee jumped from my comfort zone by joining P-Wild, I never really connected the dots and realized how influential a single, small, spontaneous risk like signing up for a house course can be.
Risks are often portrayed with a negative spin as thoughtless, dangerous and potentially unsettling. Yet, both individually and societally, risks are instrumental for progress. Whether negative or positive, they allow for reflection into the past and intuition into the future. I often wonder who I would be without my impulsive risks. They have helped me come out of my shell, embrace change and realize that doing calculus goes along with dancing at Shooters as an activity that I cannot successfully engage in for more than a few seconds. And the effects of risks transcend the individual through their effects on others. Society progresses by virtue of risk-takers.
Keeping in mind my column’s somewhat self-selective readership, I doubt there will be much opposition to a stance that taking risks is important. Yet I know that small and large risks alike are often perceived without a motivating sense of urgency. It is tempting to put off decisions and to remain in a perpetual state of comfort, but doing so often forces a complacency of personal stagnation that consequentially foregoes the possible positive impacts that risks can have on the rest of the world. I liken the effects of risks to the small waves that emerge when skipping rocks on the surface of water. Some go farther and others make larger waves, but all have the potential to influence their surroundings. Actually that might be a sub-par analogy because the waves don’t really do anything besides looking nifty, but I think you get the idea. (Mental note: Add “crafting analogies” to the unfortunate list of things I do not excel at in between calculus and Shooters dancing.)
One night over Spring Break, the members of my crew and I huddled together in a massive cuddling unit underneath the stunningly vibrant stars. As I admired the heavens, I noticed an aircraft’s light passing quickly across the sky. I felt dosed with perspective, perplexed by the dual significance and insignificance of the moment. I noticed a paradox caught between the smallness of this world and the largeness of humanity’s potential to fly sky-high. All this potential requires to be unleashed is a willingness to push our comfort zones and go wild.
Brendan McCartney is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs every other Tuesday.