I believe in taking chances.
I sat with my teachers every lunch period in seventh grade, and had the inside scoop on just about everything that went on in our middle school. Sure, it wasn’t exactly valuable information like what was going to be on the next science test, more like what the best fertilizer was to use on the school garden, and why the janitor really got fired from his job. But as a thirteen year old girl, I really could’ve cared less! I wish I could say that I sat with them as punishment or even that I enjoyed their company. But, the sad truth is that I was too afraid to eat lunch with any of my classmates. I hate to say it, but the seventh grade version of me was a spineless jellyfish who liked to play it safe.
I didn’t go to an intimidating school where the students rocked goatees and should have graduated in 1980. I went to a normal school where I was just like any other seventh grade girl- scrawny and awkward, with pink braces, and colored leggings. But, unlike my classmates, I was quiet, not because I didn’t like to talk, mind you, but because I was terrified of rejection. Socially, I was Miss. “Play it Safe”, sitting out during games of capture the flag at recess because I didn’t want to be picked last. I removed myself from social situations because I always assumed the worst: that the other kids would laugh at me or reject me if I tried to join in. At the time I believed that by never running the risk, I was saving myself from getting hurt. However, the truth holds that I spent every day of seventh grade utterly miserable, eating my bag lunch with my 50 year old teachers.
Although I’ve tried to block out memories of that year, I cannot forget lunch time. I remember one particular day clearly: outside it was frigid, but inside the cafeteria it was warm, and rowdy, as always. Boys were practicing new wrestling moves on each other, and my math teacher was yelling hoarsely as pickles were thrown against the walls. My hair was slicked back in a tight bun and my eyes were lowered as I quietly waited in line for the day’s delicious slop. Near me, a group of girls I knew ate their lunches and giggled loudly about something I couldn’t quite catch.
Normally, I would have passed their table and headed directly towards the teachers, but that day I was feeling oddly courageous. Slyly eyeing an empty seat next to them, I debated conquering my fear of rejection and daringly taking the seat. I received my tray of food and approached the group, heart beating quickly. But, alas, there is no happy ending to this story. I got close enough to smell the pungent odor of their greasy hamburgers, before I lost my nerve, stiffened up, and instead walked towards the safe aura of the teachers table.
Crying myself to sleep that night, I realized that something had to change. I couldn’t continue living in fear of taking a gamble at friendship with those girls. I’d like to say that the next day, I mustered up my courage and finally sat down with them, but that would be a lie. I continued to walk right past the group every lunch period for the rest of the year.
It took me till high school to finally conquer my fear of rejection, and realize that you’ll never find happiness unless you take the plunge. Sure, taking a chance may be uncomfortable or even scary at first, but you never know, things could turn out alright. I never gave myself the opportunity to see what would’ve happened if I had ate lunch with that group. Would they really have ridiculed me or laughed in my face? Probably not. It’s likely that I would’ve enjoyed myself and laughed along with them. But I never did take the risk, and as a result I’ll never know how things could’ve turned out differently.
I believe in the power of taking risks, because if you don’t, you’ll never know what you missed out on. I’ll never know how seventh grade would have turned out differently if I had sat in that empty seat one day. But I’m sure the ending would’ve proved far better than enduring an entire year of listening to my teachers talk about their minimal salaries and hysterectomies.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.