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Have you ever regretted not doing something because you were too afraid to do so at the time?

Me too. And it wasn’t just one instance; it was essentially the entirety of high school. All the way up through senior year, I watched opportunities that would push me beyond my comfort zone pass me by.

There were so many times in high school that I could have let go of my doubts, but didn’t. I was one of the only ones in my friend group who didn’t have a date to senior prom, and instead of going solo I decided to just not go at all because I felt like I’d be the odd person out.

Looking back, sure, I very well might have been just that, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t have had fun with my friends. I barely considered the option of going to prom before shutting the idea down.


 

I’ve never been much of a risk taker. Not only did that manifest in my everyday actions, I was also acutely aware of it when I used stairs. I never realized just how much I counted on stairway railings until they were taken away when I visited my uncle’s newly renovated house during elementary school.

Using stairs without railings was like sitting in an armchair without armrests or driving on a road without lanes. What was once second nature suddenly became somewhat foreign and uncomfortable, and I didn’t know what to make of it.

I’ve always held on to railings, even if it was on wide and shallow stairs where I had little to no danger of tripping and falling. Because no matter how small the danger, I knew the possibility of losing my footing was always there, and I needed the stability, the reassurance, that railings provided.

Likewise, for most of high school I tended to play things safe, rarely pushing myself to venture outside of my own bubble of comfort. As someone who dreaded all my class presentations, I resided in the secure knowledge that I could get presentations over with as quickly as possible and then forget about it immediately (until the next one came along, that is).

I never confronted my fear head on by stopping to consider how I could remedy my dislike for public speaking, or how I should evaluate my weaknesses and figure out the best way to practice to improve next time.

I also sought reassurances in the form of good grades and impeccable test scores. I craved the societal crutch of my worth being determined by a report card full of straight As. I never fully tried to break free of those standards and instead use more subjective methods to base my self-worth on, such as trying to discover my passions and growing as a person.


 

As high school progressed, I noticed that some people liked to walk in the middle of stairs, straying away from the railings completely. I wasn’t that kind of person though; I always needed support. It got me thinking that maybe where we walk on the stairs said something about our personalities: are we independent and bold, not needing safety at every step? Or in my case, do we need something to fall back on, something that we can always count on being there to hold us up when we cannot do so ourselves?

It wasn’t until halfway through this year of college that I realized how my relationship to staircase railings paralleled my life. Ever since coming to college, I’ve gradually strayed away from railings to the point where I barely use them anymore, if at all.

Granted, I take the elevator a lot, and when I do take the stairs I’m usually in a rush so I can’t exactly afford to hold on to the railing, especially since I like to take the stairs two at a time.

However, this was still a complete 180 from my behavior for the first 18 years of my life; just a few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to fathom railings being anything other than a necessity.


 

I’m still somewhat fazed by public speaking, but from presenting research posters to speaking at club meetings as an officer, I’ve learned how invaluable public speaking is. How else would I have been able to share my hard work in the lab with my peers and mentors, or meet and recruit club members that have since become my good friends?

As for grades, earning a few B’s (and yes, even a C or two) has taught me that having a less than perfect transcript is not the end of the world. With my safety bubble of once perfect grades no longer surrounding me, I’ve been forced to reconsider how I define my self worth, and pushing through the disappointment allowed me to emerge as a stronger and a (somewhat) more fearless person.

Leaving railings behind has shown me that life goes by too fast for me to worry about falling down every once in a while. It happens to everyone at some point, and when it does I just get right back up, take a moment to compose myself, pick up whatever I may have dropped, and be on my way.

Losing your footing can hurt, sometimes for quite a while. But everyone heals eventually, and better to have taken a risk and learned from the mistakes than be left forever wondering about what could have happened.

I’ve since learned that taking opportunities of all kinds is important. If I could do senior prom over again, would I go solo? I can’t say that I’m at the point where I’d answer with a definitive “yes,” but I can say with confidence that it’s a very real possibility that  I’d give serious consideration to.

After all, I know that the railings will always be there in case I need the support, but I don’t need to depend on them 100% of the time. The railings aren’t what will push me to move forward in my journey, whatever that may be; it’s about tackling the stairs themselves and seeing what lies in wait for me at the end.

June Xia

June is a junior at Cornell University studying biology. She attended public high school in the Philly suburbs, where she ate lots of water ice and hoagies. June enjoys watching TV, playing candy crush, and reading the New York Times. Writing poetry and knitting kept her sane during admissions season, plus a lot of chocolate and hugs; she made it out alive, and is all the more introspective and aware thanks to the experience.