The Short Story Struggle: Taking a class way out of your comfort zone

As much of a community as we are here at Notre Dame, we sure do like to put ourselves into categories. I’m no exception: Junior, College of Science member, Biochemist, Welsh Fam resident, SDH regular, the list could go on and on. I had never truly realized how much my self inflicted categorization allowed me to cling to my comfort zone. The category I probably feel the most comfortable in is “scientist”. However, one 8:00 AM DART time and one unfulfilled fine arts requirement later, and I’ve found myself involuntarily taking several steps outside my STEM comfort zone into the terrifying world of ENGL 20003: Fiction Writing.

It sounded like a great idea in theory. I love to read and fancy myself a good writer. Fiction writing would be a much deserved break from all the science and math, right? When I received my first assignment I suddenly felt the first flutters of panic: Write a short story that is between five and twenty five pages. That was all. Where was my protocol? A rubric? What question was I investigating/answering? How would I possibly evaluate the validity of my model of reality if I was the one making up the rules?! I was having a minor existential crisis. I suddenly wished I could click my heels and be at my lab bench surrounded by my trusty micropipettes and meticulously labeled stock solution bottles rather than the basement of Jenkins Nanovic surrounded by capable literary minds.

I spent the next two weeks bouncing short story ideas off of anyone and everyone who would listen. Each time I sat down to draft my story, I stared at a blank document for long periods of time before moving onto other (preferably chemistry related) homework.  Each class meeting further demonstrated to me the skill and sophistication with which my classmates analyze and appreciate literature. I only grew more impressed with their aptitude for fiction and more distraught with mine when I began reading their stories. Those flutters of panic began to balloon up inside of me. What was a terrified biochemist to do?

As my deadline approached, I admittedly reverted back into my comfort zone. I started writing what I knew, which was science. My story takes place in a research lab and the title is a nerdy play on a molecular biology technique. I couldn’t help but think my final product was underwhelming compared to those that had come before me as I handed it in. Not to mention that they probably wouldn’t get my biology joke. However, I’ve since realized that this isn’t about my classmates. It’s about me. I’ve now done something that three weeks ago felt completely impossible. And that makes me kind of awesome.

From this experience, I’ve gained some much needed humility, perspective, and insight into myself. Despite being an unexpected and stress inducing challenge, I wouldn’t trade my Fiction Writing class for anything (Not even another credit of research!). I’m learning that there’s abundant opportunity for growth out there for those who go looking for it. Taking a class that both scares and intrigues you isn’t just a risk, it’s an opportunity to discover more about yourself and your abilities. My challenge to you is to reflect more deeply on your self assigned categories. It’s not a bad thing to know where you’re comfortable and where you thrive. It only becomes a hindrance when you fail to push yourself to risk a step outside your comfort zone, as that is where you become truly awesome.

 

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