Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

If I only did things that I knew I would be good at, I never would have started swimming with the club team. I never would have taken an acting class. I never would have gone on a date. And I certainly never would have started a blog.

Trying new things and embarrassing ourselves as a consequence is so easy when we’re young. As a child, such “failures” are practically the status quo. In sixth grade, walking around the schoolyard during lunch, I came across a boy juggling. I had never juggled before, but I knew I wanted to learn. I approached him, and he began coaching me. It didn’t matter that I was standing in the middle of the playground dropping beanbags left and right. Over the subsequent months, I learned to juggle, first with two balls, then with three, then under the leg, then behind the back, and so on. Read the rest of this entry »

Lessons from Bananagrams

Think of Bananagrams as a fun version of Scrabble. You fit letters together without a board, you have to use all the pieces, it’s a race. Here’s a common scenario. You have everything arranged neatly, and you are particularly pleased with yourself for spelling the word “stochastic.” Unfortunately, you have one remaining letter, a “Q” more often than not, that just won’t fit anywhere. So what do you do? The difficult truth is that, if you want to proceed, you have to undo your work. It requires a certain mental fortitude to tear down what you’ve built up, to sacrifice the progress you’ve made in the hopes of stumbling upon a better arrangement. But Bananagrams is a game of all or nothing and sometimes you have to make that sacrifice. I’ve seen player after player grow attached to their words, refuse to give them up, and lose as a consequence.

Life is a lot like Bananagrams. From your choice of partner to your choice of career, when you find yourself at a relative maximum, it is tempting to settle. It is difficult to take a step in what you know to be (locally) the wrong direction, even when you do so in pursuit of a better outcome down the road. Are we willing to leave someone, a boyfriend or girlfriend, whom we care about very much and whose company we enjoy, because we want to know what else is out there? Are we willing to trade guaranteed satisfaction for uncertainty? The answer is and should be highly dependent on where you are in life. But it is never easy. Read the rest of this entry »

Primal Scream

Of Harvard’s many traditions, Primal Scream is the best. It’s naked girls, naked guys, and the men’s cross country team.

So as an aid to your efforts tonight (midnight, Old Yard), I’m going to present some ground rules. Try to remember them no matter how inebriated you are later.

Attire: For girls, trench-coats. For guys, underwear. Doff once in the Yard. Also, shoes. You don’t know what the Occupy people have fertilized that lawn with.

Positioning: The issue with being at the front of the pack is that you’re more likely to be photographed. The issue with being at the back of the pack is that you’re more likely to be photographed. The issue with being in the middle is all the strange penises pressing up against various parts of your body. But that won’t get you kicked out of your New York congressional seat, so stick to the middle. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Everyone Should Take a Drama Class

Something that I’ve tried to emphasize throughout this blog is the importance of being comfortable in a variety of social settings. It’s not that I want you to socialize all the time, but I do want you to have the option. Don’t embark on a heart-to-heart with every crazy person on Mass Ave, but if you are in an unfamiliar city looking for the nearest Starbucks, save yourself fifteen minutes and ask someone. There’s no need to go out three nights a week, but don’t say no when a cute girl invites you to a bar with her just because the combination of drunk strangers, loud music, and public restrooms makes you uneasy. Becoming comfortable doesn’t necessitate a change in lifestyle. It’s better to think of it as an enabler.

There are a number of steps to becoming comfortable in a given situation. The most broadly applicable, and perhaps the most important, is to switch from the mindset of trying to impress others to the mindset of trying to have fun. To illustrate, when you knock over a vase in front of your date, it’s natural to feel some embarrassment, but don’t slip into imagining how she perceives the incident and is now regretting her decision to take you to the Museum of Fine Art. It’s much better to laugh it off. Feel free to use it as a segue into an entertaining story about some other clumsy thing you did. Read the rest of this entry »