Let go of those handlebars!


College life is about finding those new, interesting challenges, each of which not only leads to your growth, but also tests your limits.

Last fortnight, I wrote about how we need to move out of our comfort zone if we wish to challenge ourselves and uncover different aspects of our personality. By and large, challenge is a good thing; as I said earlier, it forces us to think differently and sometimes build new relationships and go into new territory. But there’s also a fine line between taking up challenges in order to grow, and doing it for…well, just for the thrill of taking up a challenge.

Calculated risks

Now don’t get me wrong. There are situations where the thrill can be completely worth it. Such as bungee jumping, mountain climbing, or sky diving (I have not tried any of these, so can’t say for sure). Or, closer to the ground, maybe riding a bicycle downhill just to feel the wind in your hair (which I have done and can say is totally worth it). But just as with everything else, challenging yourself is good — to a point. There is a difference between pushing yourself to do something different in order to learn something either about yourself or the situation you are trying to understand, and pushing yourself for no particular reason other than to test your limits. Parents are told to let young children run around and take risks on the playground to learn for themselves what they can and cannot do. Yet the same parents also set boundaries for such risk-taking by making sure the playground equipment is not rusty and broken, that the surfaces are relatively smooth, and that the children are appropriately dressed. So even if the child falls or gets hurt, the injury is usually not too bad and in the process she has learned a little bit about how to handle her body and her surroundings.

Life outside the playground doesn’t have such built-in safeguards and we have to discover those limits using a combination of intelligence, common sense, and intuition, and where possible, advice from people we can trust. Dislodging ourselves from a comfort zone for intellectual reasons or to help someone else is one thing, but doing it to test physical, emotional or psychological boundaries is a completely different ball game, and we have to be aware of the risks we might be taking when experimenting with ourselves. College life in many ways is about finding those new, interesting challenges, on all fronts, and choosing the ones that actually make you gain something in each one. Making friends with people from vastly different backgrounds, opening your mind to different points of view and empathising with a range of experiences can unsettle you emotionally and psychologically but also leads to growth. If it’s your first time away from home, so having the independence to set — and break — your own boundaries is another challenge, and often it takes a while before you find ways to use that freedom productively. Experimentation and risk-taking are par for the course, with hurt and disappointment experienced just as often — if not more — than joy and satisfaction. You’ll find yourself in situations where you’re being encouraged— even pushed — by peers to do things and engage in experiences that you are not entirely comfortable with. We sometimes give in to that pressure not because of some innate curiosity but simply because we don’t want to lose those new friendships and group memberships. And that can be a slippery slope.

This is where it helps to develop your own ability to think things through, to recognise challenges that will help you learn, even if you fail, and those that may serve no productive purpose on any level. This doesn’t mean you avoid all challenges that may be considered trivial. It’s necessary to do things just for fun, too, but it’s important to be sensible about it. We need to develop our own sensors that can tell us when the risk is going to lead to a bad injury, and when it’s only going to lead to some minor scratches that will heal quickly. So if you are going to be speeding down that hill on a bike and have the impulse to let go of the handlebars, make sure you’re wearing a helmet, keep your eyes open, and have a first-aid kit handy!

The author teaches at the University of Hyderabad and edits Teacher Plus.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 12:06:11 AM |

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