Step Up, Step Back, Lean In

I used to think senioritis was a joke. I used to think that my burning yearning curiosity, my insatiable hunger for knowledge, and passion for understanding would never fade, could never fade. And then I hit senior year. Years of school work–standardized tests, SATs, ACTs, APs, and GPAs, every acronym that sought to reduce intellectual vitality down to a number–finally caught up to me and I came down with a textbook case of senioritis. More and more, I found that I was distancing myself from my academic interests, stopped recreationally reading and engaging in big questions, and fell safely into a comfortable routine of Netflix, friends, and sleep. After years of hard work, pushing myself to do better and be better, I think I was sufficiently justified in claiming my spot in the comfort zone. However, that which is justifiable is often not that which is best.

When I arrived on campus for the Tufts portion of orientation, one of our first activities was to establish our ground rules, a sort of rules of engagement to keep appropriate decorum in the group, even–and especially–in the face of the heavy subject matter that we’d inevitably grapple with. I participated willingly, but not enthusiastically, for most of the activity until one fellow raised her hand. “I think we should add ‘Lean Into Discomfort’ to our list,” Jaime said, “hard conversations can be uncomfortable, but I think that's the beauty of the thing. If we can embrace our discomfort, we’ll be able to grow more, and get deeper into the questions at hand.” Her words struck me like a bolt of lightning. Regardless of what else was going on, I always prided myself in one thing, how comfortable I was with being uncomfortable. It’s what empowered me to go to India and Southern Africa, get my black belt, attend an online school, and on the whole, live a life that subverted the norms of ‘the traditional path’ in pursuit of options that catered to my interests and circumstances. Yet, through my not so well fought battle with senioritis, I’d slipped; comfort and ease became the norm, and discomfort was something to be avoided like the plague. Though it’s been a week, Jaime’s words have not left the forefront of my conscious for a moment.

Over the last 7 days, I’ve opened up and meaningfully connected with people in ways I never knew possible. Within 72 hours I shared parts of myself that took years for me to share with folks back home. I’ve laughed so hard my stomach hurt, stopped just long enough to catch my breath, and picked up where I left off, listened powerfully, and thought deeply about questions that matter, sharing opinions and challenging my own beliefs in the process. This has been one of, if not the, best week of my life, and I am beyond excited to spend four years with this team at this university.

Coming into this program, I had a lot of worries about going to Brazil. What if I don’t like my work assignment? What if I don’t like my host family? What if my host family doesn’t like me? What if I don’t learn enough Portuguese to talk to them? What if I do but get scared, don’t talk, and make no connections? What if I write 'Brazil' instead of 'Brasil' say 'pau' instead of 'pão' or give the wrong number of beijos and come across as either cold or flirtatious? What if I do all of those and fall into any other of the million linguistic and cultural pitfalls that I don't even know to be wary of? It’s a rapid downward spiral, which throws rationality to the wind and replaces it with fear. Before I left, I just wasn’t excited about the experience, despite the objectively amazing opportunity it is. I recognize in retrospect that I wasn’t excited because I knew it would essentially be impossible to avoid discomfort. I’m bursting with excitement now, precisely because I understand that it will be uncomfortable. So long as I lean into the discomfort, I will challenge my notions of myself and my surroundings, grow in my capacities, and find a new home in a new country…even if I still can’t spell it.