Recently in a talk with a best friend, who also happens to live on my road, I caught myself offering advice that I wish I could casually dish out to myself in lesser times. Ever just hear yourself freestyling in Agony Aunt, and suddenly you’re all wait, what?
We are, both of us, either immigrants or the offspring of them. From Ghana and Nigeria respectively. This is the reality for most of the sisters I call friends. And we know that, on account of this reality, the stakes are pretty high for us. Being both black and women, knowing the low end of the hierarchy, we know too well the rule of having to work twice, three times as hard.
So we know about grind. What is it, then, that we don’t know? Do we know that we can relax… time out? Self care. Cool. Practising it. Do we know we can make mistakes? I don’t know. They bite hard. Better yet, do we know that we can fail? I’m not sure. Maybe we should try it? Wait.
Do we know that we can afford to fail?
Can we afford to fail?
All these italics are variables which we don’t know the value of. So we play it safe. Just in case. The issue at hand is entirely about taking risks, and – back to the story – what I was saying, was that perhaps we’re overdone with the lesson of putting in double the work. We have long passed that class. But it sometimes feels that we aren’t as certified in the other course, the one where you learn how to jump, how to land… or fall, or break your fall. And then get up.
The biology of risk is such that any innovative and groundbreaking work is full of possibilities that might not have survived beyond the imagination. Looked at like this, ideas are warnings and comfort blankets. Perfect and embryonic in the mind until they manifest, nothing can really go wrong until they’ve actually happened.
Or not happened. In which case they are warnings – especially if the idea is a particularly good one – because of how they threaten disappointment, rejection, or success beyond measure.
We are trying to become more risk literate. It feels a bit like lowering oneself into a swimming pool; the ladder goes down to the bottom of the pool. But the pool is deeper than you, by far. You can’t swim, but you can star-float. That much will have to do until you learn.