In September 2010, after a three-year hiatus from acting and a twenty-year avoidance of singing and dancing, I spotted a casting call in my college newspaper for The Rocky Horror Show. First, I thought: why not now? My only answer to that question was “because never before.” Acting had been a passion, and I had abandoned it out of an uncritical belief that its relevance was past. Nonetheless, the chance to sing, dance, act, and disrobe in the same show clamored for exploration. I wanted to revisit a passion while it could still be that, and the director wanted someone of my physical description with acting experience. Rocky Horror was an obvious and radical way to both make up for lost time and save an otherwise-imperiled production.
On my way to audition, I was confident. By that time in the semester, after all, I had settled into my hall, made interesting new friends, and decided to dress in drag in the name of personal and social duty. I was more confident than in years. But, in the green room, a familiar state of self-doubting anxiety crept up. I wondered: “can I really do this?” Diffidence was my baseline, so how could I suddenly take on this public dressing down? How could I take on a lead role in a musical without significant vocal training? If I had erred toward history, toward comfort, I would have walked away. This time was different.
A few days before, I had read Emerson’s Self Reliance for my philosophy class: a seminar on American Pragmatism. There, he wrote “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” I instantly appreciated the rhetorical power of that maxim, and here was an opportunity for practice! Where I had been foolish and little-minded, here was an opportunity to rectify! Emerson’s words in mind, I was finally ready to take a risk, to expand my circle of experience beyond what was comfortable. Risk-aversion abandoned, I had good rapport with the production staff immediately and felt confident throughout the audition process. In retrospect, I was on a cusp of personal—i.e. professional, social, and intellectual—evolution, and I still regard the decisions to stay, audition, and ultimately to play Brad Majors—in my briefs, before an audience of forty—as some of the most important of my life. Having met all the novel challenges posed by the show, I am difficult to deter.
The eternal lesson I derived that fall: when scared or uncomfortable, stay there long enough to adapt. Then—short of endangering yourself or others—find the next frightening but potentially glass-ceiling-shattering deviation from your history and adapt to that. Then, repeat until dead. When we live stereotyped, uncritical lives, we are likely to make the same mistakes, to face the same boredoms and frustrations, and to undermine our potential impact on the world. Furthermore, once we see these patterns and juxtapose them with what could have been had we acted differently, we are likely to face regret.
Optimization often requires critical engagement with past behavior and beliefs. If we should strive for optimization, then we should critically engage often.
Through much critical engagement with the question of what I should do, through much wrestling with the question of how I can optimize my personal fulfillment and my contribution to society, I have determined that the legal profession answers both. I will contribute a continuation of my record as an inquisitor and improver—of myself, of those around me, and of whatever culture into which I assimilate. In that way, there is no foolishness to consistency.