Columns

Mills ’15: Try something new

By
Opinions Columnist
Thursday, September 4, 2014

“Try something new.” How often have you heard that line, or perhaps the frequently quoted Eleanor Roosevelt recommendation to “Do one thing every day that scares you”? Probably often enough that, by now,  you just roll your eyes by now. But when you weigh that advice against your immediate opportunities, you can’t afford to shrug it off. The four years we have at Brown — four and a half or five, for some of us — cannot be allowed to slide into the abyss of habit and routine. The myriad opportunities we have during this short time and the freedom we have to move and explore the world around us may never come again. So take me seriously when I implore you to try something new or branch off from what you know.

No time is more ripe for straying from the path of the known than the start of the fall semester. Summer still seems like it’s going to stretch on forever, midterms are distant on the horizon, and you have all the energy you need to invest in new enterprises — so take advantage. Shop a class you know nothing about, sign up for a club, start an intramural team, explore Newport — RIPTA is still free for Brown students — or even just walk down an unfamiliar street on College Hill. It’s all too easy to show up to school in the fall and start right back where you left off: doing the same things with the same people. Before you know it, fall has become early winter with midterms and finals, and you no longer have the time or the energy that you did at the semester’s start. Don’t fall into the rut you’ve made for yourself, and don’t get complacent with your experiences.

Trying new things can also be beneficial to your health. A 2007 study by psychologist Richard Walker of Winston-Salem State University found that people who have a wider array of experiences better hold onto positive emotions. Just this summer, the Mayo Clinic suggested as part of its “12 Habits of Highly Healthy People” series that in order to live a happier and more healthful life, it is important to make a habit of trying new things.

Go to the Student Activities Fair on tonight, where nearly all student groups and clubs will be, eager to have you sign up for whatever it is they do — be it rock climbing or taekwondo. Also, the first two weeks of the semester are shopping period. Shop a few curveballs — the Department of Egyptology and Assyriology is offering an introduction to hieroglyphics, and the Department of Theater Arts and Performance Studies is offering its ever-popular TAPS 0220: “Persuasive Communication.” And don’t forget that Brown students can also take classes offered by the Rhode Island School of Design.

Another 1,500 opportunities to do something you haven’t done before can be found milling around asking for directions to the Sharpe Refectory or wearing brand-new gear from the Brown Bookstore. That’s right — first-years. While usually the eager horde is steered clear of, each and every first-year provides an opportunity to meet someone new. These first-years might have interesting things to say and diverse perspectives to share. So at the risk of sounding carnal: You don’t have to just try new things, but you can also try new people.

Some might warn of doing too much, of overextending yourself or stretching yourself thin. Those are legitimate concerns — everyone knows those people who try to do so much that they end up doing little. A 2012 New York Times column by Tim Kreider aptly called it “The ‘Busy’ Trap” stressed the danger of adding more to your plate just so you can feel fulfilled, when in reality, you are doing less. So take heed — rather than sign up for all of the several hundred student groups at the Activities Fair, just pick a handful, and show up to the first meeting of only the one that most interests you. But don’t let a fear of becoming too busy dissuade you from trying new things — your opportunities are still knocking, whether it’s amateur polo or amateur StarCraft that strikes your fancy.

That’s the case for trying something new. It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, if it takes all day or just a moment, life-changing or just memorable. You won’t have a better opportunity, it’s probably good for your health, and you’ll probably enjoy yourself. That’s the goal anyway.

Walker Mills ’15 can be found doing the same things he’s been doing for four years. Help break the monotony by emailing him at walker_mills@brown.edu.