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Growing up, my mom always saw me as a risk-taker, especially in comparison to my sisters. Where she got this perception from I don’t know, but it has informed the pieces of advice she gives me. When I first started driving at 15, every yellow light I sped through or quick turn I made, she blamed on my risk-taking nature. Her comments always tried to tame my perceived urge to act on instinct. The truth is, though, I’ve never really thought of myself as a person who was comfortable taking risks.

And I stand by that. If the last few weeks have shown me anything about myself, it’s that I am definitely not the risk-taker my mother believes I am. Being in a group for such a long period of time forces you to think about your position within the dynamics, and mine is surely not that of the adventurous, spontaneous free spirit.

Though on the surface, being on this trip should say something about my openness to new experience, I don’t think it’s as plain as that. This is especially due to the fact that I was not even expecting to get into this program. My intention was to apply to express my interest and increase my chances for when I applied next year, when I was—hopefully—more qualified and more mature. Only a tiny fraction of myself believed I had a chance of being accepted to this once in a lifetime opportunity, as both a first-year and as someone who had no interest in working in law in the future. Therefore, one can imagine my utter shock and internal freak out when I found out I had been accepted — I may or may not have shed some tears in Marketplace, both out of excitement and absolute terror. So, no, I’m not here because I take risks; I’m here because my carefully calculated strategy resulted in success far earlier than intended.

Further proof came a couple weeks ago. A few of us had gotten out of work early and decided it would be the perfect opportunity to climb Lion’s Head. We’d heard that the hike didn’t take too long, so we figured we had more than enough time to ascend and descend before we had to be back to listen to a speaker that night.

The situation wasn’t as simple as we’d hoped, though. The hike up Lion’s Head was definitely not a plan we should’ve taken lightly. As someone who has hiked a total of one time, you could say I had limited confidence in my ability to scale the side of a mountain. Of course, Olivia, who I was climbing with, didn’t seem to be bothered by the impending possibility of death by mountain and just kept going. Not wanting to hold us back, I — very reluctantly — continued up and hoped my fear wouldn’t paralyze me enough to arrive at said death. In case anyone is concerned, I did in fact not die that day. Thankfully.

The experience led to quite a bit of self-realization. Had I been acting independently, there would’ve been no way I would have continued up that mountain. Out of fear, I would have turned back, siking myself out entirely. I would have missed out on the incredible view from the top, not to mention the intense feeling of gratification I felt after having accomplished that. I think it took a full week for the excitement to wear off.

After reflecting on the situation, I started to realize all the things I’d been missing out on by playing it safe. And I don’t necessarily mean missing out on a thrill. I had even avoided little things like trying ethnic foods and flavors that were foreign to me. I’ve slowly realized how much I’ve subconsciously (and consciously) sheltered myself, all due to the allure of comfort.

So, I’ve decided I’m going to work on it.

Whether that means talking to strangers or exploring unknown areas, I’m going to actively push myself outside my comfort zone. My mom might not be too happy that her supposed “risk-taker” is consciously going to be taking more “risks,” but I think I will be. Just yesterday, not only did I hike four excruciating hours up Table Mountain, but I also let a friend order for me at a Thai restaurant, despite the fact that I’d never eaten it before. So, I think the risk thing (whether big or small) is going well. Sorry Mom. 🙂