Side Journey: Risk & Reward


In every risk there is the possibility of loss. It’s a totally obvious statement, definitional really, but nonetheless true. I am now in northern California in the town where I grew up. In the house where I grew up. Both have changed a lot, and both are beautiful in ways both new and reminiscent of my youth.

I am here catching up on things, taking stock of the journey to this point: what are the successes? What needs to improve in the days ahead? Who do I need to reach out to? Who have I overlooked? What are the best, most advantageous next steps? Many incredible scholars are in this area with a wealth of intellectual talent at the major west coast institutions of Stanford University and Cal (i.e., University of California – Berkeley), plus a few others. A few people will speak with me in December, but most hope to wait until after the holiday season and New Year when things once again look fresh and open to possibility.

So, here I am. We are catching up,  taking stock, preparing for what is to come, processing the journey as best we can. From California we travel to Australia. We’ll be in Sydney then catch a flight to Aukland, New Zealand. A few weeks in NZ, then back to Australia, this time Melbourne, before heading back to Sydney, and our eventual return to California. And, yes, I’ll take pictures. Several fantastic psychologists down under will be featured on this space during those travels. I’ll write. As ever, I’ll try to pass on the stories of the influential psychologists and how they found their scientific findings, themselves, and how they developed their lives.

While we are here in California I am trying to spend time with my family. After growing up here, most of my adult life I’ve lived outside of California: from Toronto, to Alabama, to New Jersey. Now as in past visits, returning here is fulfilling, embracing even. It is an opportunity to be more closely involved with the lives of my parents, close relatives, and even some friends from my youth. It is a chance to bask in the beauty of this place that was once my home.

We’ve engaged together as an extended family, (from tweenage son to our many grandparents) by taking in a show from the unbelievable touring company of Cirque du Soleil. The performers led us through a set of breath taking stunts, high risk acrobatics, clown-like silliness, music, and wild, choreographed routines! We laughed and gasped together, oohed and applauded, and watched as the show inched towards its astonishing finale! The risks they took made for an inspiring show, but ultimately a sad one. On this night, in this performance, the risks proved too great. In a horrifying and painful moment, one of the young stunt bicyclists flipped high into the air and then crumpled to the ground in an awkward, twisted landing. The show stopped. The paramedics were called in. We all paused and gawked for several minutes while a pre-recorded Cirque du Soleil announcer assured us that this was only a brief interruption after which the show might resume. It was a beautiful and amazing show, filled with high risk and intense action. We were transfixed: first by the awe-inspiring spectacle and then by our concern and anxiety for this young performer. Eventually, the paramedics took him to receive care. Not long thereafter, the shaken performers returned to the stage, took their final bow, and we went home. This show was not to resume. We learned later that the subsequent performance for that evening was canceled.

It was an abrupt alarm to the unbelievable risks that these performers had undertaken for the Cirque. For us. With every risk there is a possibility of loss. We were witness to the power and beauty of that risk.

At times, and often during this journey, I have tried to embrace the freedom allowed by taking risk. On this journey and time and time again, we must try something different. We must reach out to new people and find our place in new communities. We must test our abilities in those strange elements. We must assess the dangers, costs, possibilities, and advantages of each decision on where and how we will live in each new place. I have committed to undertake this project: a journey to capture the oral history of psychology. That commitment entails that I throw myself into a totally new and alien role, replete with a demand for new skills, new requirements, new understanding. I am a teacher who is not teaching. I am professor who is not professing. I am a researcher without my lab and who is not publishing during this time (albeit with lofty goals for this book). I committed to this project and as a family we are taking this risk. It is an attempt to integrate the inspiring truths and painful consequences from the journey and from the lives of the people who have influenced the field in such meaningful ways.  With each conversation, each new person that I have the opportunity to meet, there is the opportunity to see their humanity and learn from their experience.

With this risk I will succeed. With this risk I will fail. That is this journey.

(Shown are images from the deck at the rear of my childhood home. When I was a child I really had no idea how amazing this view was.  It just was).




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