In which bass lines are addicting, Adam Grant ruminates on originality, and Daniel Wolfert leaves unemployment.
To my dear reader,
Thinking back on the road trip I recently took from North Carolina to Washington, the sounds dominating those memories are the song “Bad Decisions” by Ariana Grande and a National Public Radio show called Slowing Down. Over a seriously addicting ascending bassline and a percussive, syncopated piano, Grande sings in “Bad Decisions” about the risky lifestyle her dangerous lover has led her to. Although I know nothing about having dangerous lovers (or legitimately risky lifestyles), I DO know about making wild, reckless choices.
This trip was one of them.
I had somewhat impulsively decided with a good friend that we would spend eight days driving from coast to coast, in spite of never having driven so long, and my lack of plan or job back in Tacoma. Aside from just being a jam, the song represented the impending trip and my many other impetuous, belligerent choices.
The song was unexpectedly brought to mind as I later listened to NPR. As part of its weekly TED Radio Hour, NPR discussed creativity and procrastination in Slowing Down with author Adam Grant and others creative minds. During the show, Grant referenced his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World and it resonated with me. Explaining some of the book’s conclusions, Grant said that everyone fears failure and the subsequent disappointment and humiliation. Original minds, Grant said, do not lack this fear, but rather have an especially powerful fear of not trying.
Grant’s point and Grande’s song seemed, to me, intertwined due to a revelation I had just before my senior year of college. With so many massive decisions looming, I realized that most of life’s important crossroads had given me two options: a safe decision and a risky one. Safe decisions usually meant not trying to get what I wanted, and left me where I’d been before – usually meaning stagnant and dissatisfied. Risky decisions usually meant wildly, raucously throwing myself toward what I wanted, leading to places I’d never been. This risked failure and humiliation, but occasionally granted growth and achievement, or at least a humorously self-deprecating story.
Of course, “safe” and “risky” are relative, but for me to take off with no long-term plan was hugely risky to me. In the case of that specific reckless choice, however, it worked out – I’ve delightedly become a music instructor at a YMCA and a member of the Seattle vocal ensemble The Esoterics. If I’d made the safe decision to stay with my family in North Carolina, I would probably still be working as a dishwasher. I now have the opportunity to jump start my career as a musician, and I doubt I’d have been able to do the same back home. Inevitably, my recklessness will lead to bad decisions that will lead to failure, but playing it safe has rarely gotten me where I wanted to go. People will talk, but then again, they always do, and so in the words of Ariana Grande, let ‘em keep on talking…
With all due respect,