I am afraid of a lot of stupid things. Unidentifiable noises in the dark. That unknown mushy thing in the back of my freezer. Anything that looks like blood. The insistent sound of my email inbox pinging. And of course, when Pitchfork Provisions runs out of chocolate cake.
Yet when it comes to more weighty matters such as my impending life prospects, I usually am not so much afraid as gleefully oblivious. For what better adrenalin rush is there than taking a gamble on your unknown and tentative future? Spontaneous decisions, wee how fun!
In any case, I am the person that blurts rather than filters the strange thoughts on my mind. I introduce myself to strangers on the bus when I’m bored. On the spur of the moment, I ask romantic interests to coffee without thinking it through. When traveling, I book a bed and a plane ticket and hope the rest of it will somehow work out. I am bold, because somewhere inside, somewhere implicit in the fiber of my being, I trust that my subconscious knows what it is doing. I trust.
At least I used to be that person. I don’t know if I still am.
Because the girl who first walked through the archway of Pegram, fresh off a flight from Australia is not the same girl sitting in Bella Union and writing this article. I cannot deny that two years of Duke life have irrevocably changed the way I live my life. On one hand, it has opened up a beckoning Narnia of a doorway, and I ventured into the wardrobe to discover just how good it is to live to learn and learn to live. But on the other hand, it has closed me off in ways I never imagined.
After two years I have found that Duke is a culture of moderation. Try in class, but not too hard or else people will brand you totally “unchill.” Be exuberant and friendly, but not too friendly or people call you strange. Date around, but don’t ask for too much commitment—what are you, desperate? Even the way we dress is carefully understated, and those hipster souls who dare to deviate are conspicuous on campus. And I too have adopted that mentality in my daily life. I am still friendly, but after too many awkward conversations I now fear introducing myself to strangers. My default expression is no longer a smile but a cool and polite neutrality. I am sometimes afraid to post Facebook statuses because it is better to say nothing than something controversial (and by controversial, I don’t mean liberal). When I meet a guy I’m interested in, I no longer ask him to coffee but feign indifference and see if he will take the lead. He doesn’t.
Duke has damaged my boldness because deviating from the norm does not often seem to pay off. Certainly there is a mold at this school of the casual, cool social interaction that is lauded. It seems that diverging often leads to something even worse than rejection—pity and indifference. I am too weary to keep trying and too disheartened to be courageous.
But I am also weary of carefully moderating my interactions with others to fit into this idea that some unknown person decided one day was acceptable. Why has social interaction become a game of who feigns indifference the best? It’s a game I don’t know how to play.
It is difficult and frightening to be bold. The fear of rejection, something I’ve written about previously, is real and raw and can bite. Let it hurt. What distinguishes some of the most change-making people in the world is simply their refusal to let rejection wear down their boldness. In our incubated conformity, we have become comfortable with stigmatizing the person who first raises their hand in class.
But having courage is not something to be ashamed of. Courage is the flame burning on the torches ahead. Courage is the indicator of passion and personal investment. Courage is what might transform the small idea in your head into a blazing reality. And even if it’s awkward and embarrassing at first, courage will pay off hugely in the long run.
Recently, I struggled with the decision whether to re-run in an election or not. It would mean public declaration and being singled out for judgment. It would mean actively having to fight for a position I believed in. It would mean being more courageous than I had been in a long, long time.
And then I thought about the girl who never visited Duke University but Google Mapped it and bought a plane ticket the very next day. I think about the girl who, against all odds, somehow ended up in an adventure ten thousand miles away from home.
And I decided to be bold.
Isabella Kwai is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs every other Thursday. Send Bella a message on Twitter @tallbellarina.