Risk it for the Biscuit

by Katherine Cline | 2/27/19 2:05am

“Risk it for the biscuit!” “Do the damn thing!” “Ball the f— up!”

These are the contents of my peptalks. (Okay, maybe not the first one. But I think that one is funny, and it’s making a comeback.) I’m not talking about gassing a friend up. No, these are the pep talks that I give myself.

Anything from an impending class presentation to ordering food at a restaurant can spark that internal monologue. The times when I’ve needed pep talks most, though, haven’t been before a midterm, but rather during those moments when time seems to have slowed down, and I realize that I’ve reached an impasse. How do you decide when to tell someone you love them for the first time? How do you make the decision to dramatically cut your hair, interview for a new job or change your major after two and a half years of pursuing a different one? These moments, large and small, can take us years to deliberate and even longer to act upon. Naturally, a large part of making up our minds is considering what is plausible given our constraints. Yet for a lot of us, choices come down to the same predicable formula: risking the unknown for a possible payoff. Though that mentality can sometimes protect us, it can also limit us from stepping beyond our comfort zone and trying something new. Comfort is … well, comfortable. It’s hard to find the incentive to change unless we see something better on the horizon. Even then, the thought of sacrificing stability for a shot at a better future can be too daunting to consider. As the saying goes, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

 In retrospect, I realize that some life-changing moments do not always dramatically alter our daily lives. That is not to say those decisions are unimportant. Rather, we should be proud of the fact that we had the guts to make the choice at all, which is often more important than what it entails. This past summer, I cut my hair — short. I’m talking eight inches shorter. I remember my rationalization, which played on repeat the moments before I heard the scissors make that first snip: “It’s just hair. It’s just hair. It’s just hair.” I had wanted to cut my hair for years. Of course, I always got the routine trim, but I was waiting for the moment I was brave enough to do “The Chop.”

This was a big change — visually, of course — but also in terms of constructing my own identity. Having hair roughly the same length my entire life, I never felt the desire to alter it by dyeing, curling or straightening it. College is a big step for anyone, but I think of it as the beginning of asserting my autonomy. By coming to college, I was not necessarily becoming an adult. I was becoming a person. As I began to better understand who I was and forge an identity separate from the one I had stuck with for all 18 years prior, the vague notion I had that I would one day cut my hair became a tangible desire. No more was the fleeting acknowledgment that I thought short hair looked nice on other people. However, when I voiced this desire, I was met with some rather disheartening replies. I was told that tall girls don’t look good with short hair and that my long hair was my nicest feature. In all honesty, I’m sure that I received as much encouragement as discouragement, if not more. But it’s always the bad stuff that sticks. (Ask me when I’m 99 years out about that one time my 7-year-old brother told me I wasn’t funny. That one still stings.) Ultimately, cutting my hair was in part a reaction to all the negativity I received. I wanted to prove that I wouldn’t back down from change just because it scared me, and show the world that momma didn’t raise no … baby.

That morning at the hair salon, with that absurd cape draped around my neck, I was struck with 11th hour panic. What if everyone was right? What if this is the dumbest thing I’d ever do, and now I’d have to walk around with a paper bag on my head, become a hermit and die alone? I felt paralyzed. I knew what I wanted, but sitting at the precipice of finally doing the thing, I had to relive every rationalization and voice of doubt. I only really took a breath when I realized what was freaking me out was not the loss — in technical terms — of dead cells off the top of my head, but rather the idea of committing to a huge decision. Once The Chop happened, my hair couldn’t get un-cut. Now, I’m not calling myself as hero, but I went ahead with it anyway, because on some level, I knew I’d regret backing out due to fear more than I’d mourn a few inches off my hair.

In case you were wondering, I like my short hair. As nominal a change as it might seem to others, it was hugely symbolic to me. Turning points in our lives are deeply personal. They cannot be ranked according to any single experience other than our own. When you make the decision to change, step outside of your comfort zone or cut your hair, you don’t just reap the possible benefits: you establish yourself as a person. It’s not about what you risk, but whether or not you’re willing to risk anything at all. Talk to a stranger, write about an essay topic that’s not tried and true, tell someone you love them. As my internal monologue tells me every day: be brave, make the chop, risk it for the biscuit. 

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