It always amazes me when I come back to this blog and I realize how long it has been since I last wrote. On one hand, it seems like just last week that I was walking the streets of Melbourne, or sitting in cafes in Berkeley studying for midterms. But on the other, those memories seem so distant that they belong to a different person, and perhaps in some ways they do. I am writing this post in a cafe as well, but this time it is in Seattle on a cold and rainy Sunday in November.
I graduated from Berkeley in May, and am gainfully employed as a software developer at a company called Qualtrics. You’ve most likely taken a survey generated on the company’s platform. So far, I’m enjoying the work a lot, as I’m working in a backend role and am solving problems around handling large amounts of data and dealing with distributed systems.
Meanwhile, Sarah is in her second year of vet school and while it’s hard, our relationship is as strong as ever. It helped that we spent almost the whole summer together, road tripping from the Bay Area to Seattle and back, exploring Europe for three weeks, and generally enjoying each other’s company.
But I am not writing to give a general update on my life. If you know me, you know all that already, and if you don’t, you might not care.
I am a product of my experiences, and by that I mean that I am extraordinarily privileged. I grew up in an upper middle class white family, attended great schools, was supported by my parents as I trained and raced my bike and went to a world class university, and am now working in one of the most lucrative careers in one of the hottest tech cities in the world. Therefore recently I have been asking myself something important; have I ever failed?
I hadn’t heard of Erin Hanson, the author of the poem at the beginning, until I saw it as the title of a North Face video. What I’ve always liked about art, whether it be words, images, or film, is that once it exists outside the mind of the artist, it takes on its own significance. I don’t need to know what Erin meant when she wrote this; it’s enough to know what it means to me. Because the truth is, I’ve never failed.
Ok, technically that might not be true: I failed to qualify for L’Abitibi at the 2012 USA Cycling selection camp, I failed to get into Harvard and Stanford (twice), I failed to become a professional cyclist, I failed to win a collegiate national championship, I failed to get a job at Facebook. These are cheap failures, however, because I have always had a backup. For four years, I raced near the highest level of domestic cycling with Mike’s Bikes. When I didn’t get into the Ivy League, I still had a number of great colleges to choose from. And although I didn’t get a job at Facebook, I ended up at Qualtrics, a fast-growing company filled with smart people and opportunities for me to excel.
Every meaningful risk I’ve taken in my life has been calculated, set up in a way so that if something goes wrong, I can walk away unscathed. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been disappointed, because in fact I’ve probably ended up disappointed more often than not. Abstractly, I know that I am very lucky, but in reality, I have taken much of it for granted. It has always been easy for me to list off the things I don’t have; it has been much harder to appreciate the things I do. Nevertheless, the truth remains; my failures are like comparing the creek outside the window of my childhood bedroom to the rapids of Niagara.
Where does that leave me? Recently, I have started looking into ways I can use my skills to give back. I am helping out at Seattle CoderDojo, where kids from elementary to high school can go and learn how to code for a couple hours a week. After only a couple weeks, this has been very rewarding for me, and I hope to get more involved in it and other similar programs in the near future. Even this, however, caters only to parents who are invested enough in their childrens’ lives to bring them in on Saturday mornings. There are many parents who can’t afford to buy laptops for their kids to learn on, or haven’t heard about programs like CoderDojo, or have one of a million other reasons they are unable to attend these types of events. What will become of them, and what can I possibly do about it?
I have also begun to get into rock climbing. In climbing, the question is never ‘What if I fall?’, but ‘When will I fall?’ The shift in the question is important; when I’m on the wall, I need to let go of the worries of what will happen if my grip fails and focus only on what will happen if I do, indeed, succeed.
I was inspired to write today because of a quesion in a poem by a woman I’ve never met who was most likely thinking of something completely different than me when she wrote it. Now I am left with even more questions than when I started. What does freedom mean to me? What can I do to help others in the face of hate, prejudice, and inequality? I promise, however, that I will work to stop asking myself ‘What if I fall?’ Instead, whether it’s at work, on the rock, or in any other facet of my life, I promise to grit my teeth that extra little bit and ask myself, ‘Reese, what if you fly?’