The point or area on a bat, club, or racket at which it makes most effective contact with the ball.
An optimum point or combination of factors or qualities.
Leaves, flowers, rain…..baseball…..signs spring is in full bloom. As a teacher, one thing I can also add to the list is squirrelly kids. And, in an elementary school, the squirreliest of all: 5th graders.
Yet, these awkward, clumsy kids are the ones I get most worried about this time of year. Soon we will be sending them on to the unpredictable years of middle school. It seems like everyone cringes a bit when they hear those words…middle school. There’s got to be a reason for that.
Is Risk Good or Bad?
In the last few weeks, I have found myself trying to jam pack my 5th graders’ heads with useful tidbits of advice and encouragement. I want them to be o.k. in this next chapter of their lives. Actually, I want them to be more than o.k. I want them to learn and grow, and make friends who are good, and find things they love to do. I want them most of all to be happy. I don’t think this will be easy for some of them. I hope though, I am wrong.
In one of these conversations recently, I was sharing with them that sometimes they might have to make some choices that are different from their friends. I told them this might be one of the hardest things they have had to do, but also one of the most important things they do. I was casually throwing out phrases like: “Follow your heart,” “Be your own guy,” “Be different,”…..“Take some risks.”
Somewhere in my delivery, one of the boys raised his hand and asked, “Wait…so is risk good or bad?”
He looked at me in this way kids sometimes do and adults rarely do; a look of complete trust that you will know the answer. It’s a lot of pressure when those soulful, believing eyes of children stare you down as you try to explain something simply, that the whole world might still be figuring out.
The truth is, risk is something that I personally have been thinking a lot about lately. And in a simplified synthesis of my thoughts, I’ve realized I need more of it.
But, as I stared back at this boy with the sweet face, hidden in an already tough-guy air, hair below his shoulders, gangly legs in his sagging, skinny jeans, big high-tops, banged up elbows – no doubt from skateboarding, and dark circles below his eyes, which an 11-year-old really shouldn’t have; I realized I had to choose my words carefully.
I decided I needed time with this one. It was too important. So, I said, “Risk is good, but it can be tricky, and it deserves some thought. I want to think about it a little and talk to you more tomorrow.”
I’m pretty sure he actually rolled his eyes at me. Aghhh….I let him down. I did something soooooo…..adult. I could tell he had thought I was better than that. I felt badly. I needed to make sure to follow through and get back to him.
The Sweet Spot of Risk Taking
That night, I really thought about the conversation and the concept of risk. I think the thing that makes it a tricky topic, is risk looks and feels differently for each of us, and it changes throughout our lives.
As adults, it seems like there are endless quotes (some are my favorites even) about taking risks, exploring, getting uncomfortable….there is a general sentiment suggesting that’s where all the good stuff happens, where dreams come true and soul-filling happiness abides….we just have to take more risks.
But for many kids, especially those of the thrill-seeking variety, we (meaning adults in their lives) are constantly trying to curtail a little of the risk taking, or at least put some helmets and padding on it, and channel it away from dangerous behaviors (violence, drugs, etc).
I can understand where this would be very confusing to a young boy.
Some people continue these behaviors into adulthood and are just risk-takers by nature. For some it feels risky to even eat something different for breakfast. Most of us fall somewhere in between. We all have such unique personalities and genes that determines what even feels risky in the first place. It really is not a clearly black or white kind of topic.
Risk is often thought of as breaking out of one’s own status quo, shaking things up, doing things that make you a little uncomfortable, trying new things, or going down a path where the results are unknown. But this can mean something so different for each of us. That’s why it’s often hard to discuss and understand where each person might get stuck or struggle in this area. For me personally, sometimes the biggest risk is committing to something, giving up freedoms….that feels seriously risky!
I’ve started to realize that as I get older, it’s easier to make life comfortable. I know what I like, what makes me happy (Or, what I think does). I have more means and flexibility to craft my life into what I believe I want, and like, and need. There is truly great comfort in the ability to do this.
But, I have also discovered that the things that bring me the most meaning, the most depth, the gooey-life-is-good feeling, are rarely found in the comfort. They’re found in those moments that surprise you and show you something you never knew was possible. They are found in the messy moments when either by choice or circumstance, you got a little derailed and you find yourself heading somewhere you didn’t intend. They are found during the times you realize you are stronger than you thought.
Meaning is found when you have to work hard for something, and you find yourself wanting to work hard. Meaning happens when your days are flying by because you are lost in the living. For me, I have also found great meaning in the moments where I have reluctantly given up some freedoms and connected, and was part of something bigger.
I have to remind myself of this a little more as each year passes, as it becomes a little easier to hang out in our comfort zones…I mean we did work hard to create them!
Now, I’m not knocking comfort. Not at all. Comfort is necessary. It’s an important part of life, it’s where we recharge, reconnect, slow-down and enjoy the beauty of life. Some people live so much in the world of risk-taking that they never get to reap the benefits of those times where life slows its pace, where you can be and breathe. But I have found for myself, I have to be careful to not make comfort the only goal, or the ultimate goal.
I think the key is to find that “sweet spot” of risk taking. That place where it all comes together, and we find out what it feels like to hit it out of the ballpark. We can’t get there by always playing it safe, by always hitting grounders, by doing the thing we already know we can do well. But we also won’t get there by clobbering into every ball thrown our way. We’ll foul out or burn out. While we are working to find that spot, we’re also bound to swing and miss a few too, but we have to risk that in order to find that perfect place of contact, that home-run swing. It’s truly a balance….we each have to find our own unique, individual, sweet spot of risk taking.
So…yup, that’s where I went the next day with my boys back at school. I gave them a 5th grade version of my baseball analogy. I won’t go into my whole speech, and I won’t pretend, by any means, that I had a Dead Poet’s Society Moment, hardly. But I do think they did listen. Maybe, hopefully, they will find a little something there that makes sense.
Truthfully, I think I needed that particular pep talk as much for my own self as for them. I’ve been reflecting a bunch on risk lately, and I definitely need to take a little of my own advice on this one. I will wrap up with the words my little 5th grade buddy left me with after our chat….
“Awww…Ms. Furay’s gettin’ real.” I guess I better make sure that I do. Sometimes we all need to be reminded of what we already know.