by Sarah Patnaude
From the Editor: Many who read this will remember Sarah Patnaude of Virginia as a two-time winner of a National Federation of the Blind scholarship, first winning in 2014 and becoming a tenBroek winner in 2018. She was an intern at our Jernigan Institute in 2014. She is currently the corresponding secretary for the Virginia Affiliate and second vice president of the Human Services Division.
In addition, she does cosplay, short for costume play, where she makes her own costumes by hand. She also enjoys photography and painting. What a biography.
One of the issues conscientious Federationists look at again and again is whether we are doing all we can do or whether we are settling, a word that has come to mean pretending that we don’t want or need something because we fear getting it might be too hard. Sometimes we do not dare to risk, for our fear of failure is greater than our sense of hope and the belief we have in ourselves. Here is what Sarah has to say about her journey to believe in herself and go beyond the comfortable:
Gathered around the dining room table, laughter and competitiveness fill the room. Boards, pieces, and cards take over the tables and floors. For the next few hours, the only person we could rely on was ourself. Every move you took had to be strategic.
Growing up, family and community game nights were a Patnaude tradition. As a competitive individual, I found myself good at many games. However, there were a few games I just plain stunk at: one of which is a game called Risk. For those who have never played, Risk is a game where the purpose is none other than to take over the world. My favorite objective! There are two main strategies for this game: play the defense and only attack small countries or play the offense and take chances on attacking the larger countries. I typically chose the first strategy and only would attack countries I knew I could beat. However, that strategy always led to my demise.
Although just a game, my strategy in life up until recently was a similar approach. Stick with the safety net and certainty and avoid risks and uncertainty. As a young kid, my life was full of uncertainty. We didn’t know when or if my vision would worsen. Thus, my doctors, parents, and I took precautions to limit the risk of a detached retina. Those precautions consisted of limiting my ability to play on playgrounds, go on diving boards, play contact sports, go in bounce houses, enjoy rides at amusement parks, and any other activity that could cause my head to be jerked around, or cause too much pressure. We did everything we could to limit the risk of going totally blind. It came at a cost though: I was not able to fully live my childhood.
The next few times in my life where I recall having to decide to take a risk or not was in academics. In the fifth grade I was presented with the opportunity to attend a gifted middle school. At that point I was faced with the decision to attend a school that was foreign to my family and more academically challenging or attend the school my siblings attended. For me this was a simple decision at that time in my life. Both of my siblings attended the local middle school, and it would be almost certain I would have at least a few teachers they had. Thus, I went with the safe decision: the one where my family was familiar with the faculty and one that would allow me to have the most “normal” childhood. Next was high school. This time I knew I wanted to attend a specialty center. Would I apply for the Governor’s School, one of the most prestigious schools around, or would I attend the specialty center my sister attended? Once again I avoided the risk of rejection and applied for the school I knew I had the most chance of getting into and the one where my family was familiar with the faculty and administration.
Since joining the Federation in 2010 at the age of sixteen, I knew I needed to attend a Federation training center to gain proficiency in blindness skills. However, like everything else, it involved risks. At first the risk involved college and whether my scholarship could wait a year. As someone who was very academically focused, did I really want to risk losing my scholarship or become even more indecisive about my course of study to gain blindness skills? I had after all excelled in high school without them. Then, the risk involved employment. Did I want to have a gap on my resumé? Entering my last year of graduate school though, I knew that I had put off training for far too long. I finally realized that the familiar was riskier than taking the risk.
In May 2019 I started at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Although I gained proficiency in blindness skills and strengthened my philosophy, my journey at LCB was more than just blindness. It was a journey involving slowing down, embracing uncertainty, giving myself permission to succeed, and yes, taking risks. I remember the days of creeping slowly to every curb, too afraid to overstep it. My travel instructor gave me the first of many risk-taking talks. He explained the difference between careless risk-taking and cautious risk-taking. In that instance, I had the knowledge to distinguish the sidewalk from the street, so it wasn’t a careless risk to walk confidently to the curb. It was a risk that was backed up with knowledge I had and trust in my cane. In other words, I wasn’t planning to attack a country with a big army with only two men. I was attacking a slightly larger country with sufficient men on my side—a cautious risk.
Three months into my training, I was faced with another risk. This time it was in home management where I had to make my own recipe. To say I was a strict recipe adherer is an understatement. Before going to training, if the recipe called for one garlic clove, I would use one garlic clove even though I love garlic. If the recipe called for raisins and I didn’t have raisins, well... I wasn’t making that recipe. Therefore, my instructor telling me to make my own soup based on nothing except the knowledge I had and my taste buds was like telling me, someone who is afraid of heights, to go bungee jumping, which I would never do. Up until then I made some pretty good dishes. Nothing did I recall spitting out, and I was convinced that was because I had followed recipes. So why take the risk of making something worth throwing in the garbage now? Because, as much as I hate to admit it, without risks there is no reward. If I continued to follow recipes strictly, I would never have the opportunity to learn and grow or have the opportunity to make something great. Let me tell you, that loaded potato soup was probably the best thing I made while I was a student, and I get to claim it as my own.
Life is full of risks. Some have greater consequences than others. There is no harm in having a safety net or a comfort zone. However, being unwilling to take risks at all can be just as harmful as taking careless risks. Without some risk-taking, one cannot embrace to the fullest extent what life has to offer, and there are limited opportunities to grow. Be willing to get uncomfortable: take the job, take the leadership role, try a new fundraising event, go get training. Whatever risks present themselves in your life or even in your chapter or affiliate, do not settle for the familiar because of fear of the unknown. You never know what success you may have or the growth that can occur because of your decision to not play it safe. There are hundreds of accomplishments I am proud of during my time at LCB, but what I am the proudest of is knowing without a doubt that, with the skills and knowledge I have gained and a little problem-solving, I can face uncertainty and take risks and do it with confidence. Because of that, I have a much better chance at conquering the world.