Taking Risks


The Greatest Mistake You Can Make, Is to Be Afraid of Making one.           
(Elbert Hubbard [1])

“What? You plan to go to Japan to study the language? You’re nearly 24, without a college education, so why would you want to do that? How will you support yourself? And if you do learn the language, what will you do with it? Aren’t you taking a big gamble?”

Yes, I was taking a gamble, but isn’t that what we all do when we chase after our dreams? So, I didn’t heed the advice of my friends and family and left for Japan. The result was the greatest adventure of my life, which lasted 15 years.

“Are you mad? You want to marry a foreign student? Do you want to bring shame on our family? Only fools would gamble with their lives like that! We forbid you to marry him, and if you do, we will disown you!”

But my wife, who was a Registered Nurse at the time, chose to listen to her heart, rather than her parents. So, we married and shared a 48 year adventure in Japan, Hawaii, and Canada, and continue to do so.

These stories are just two examples of the countless opportunities that come our way. Life invites us to say yes to adventure, excitement, and courage. Many, however, turn away from life’s call because of fear. But all the decisions we make have consequences, and the consequences of giving in to fear are lives of regret.

Yet, in unguarded moments, courage can change to rashness or impulsiveness and the gambles we take may turnout to be destructive, rather than constructive. Some, for example, turn to gambling, alcohol, sex, and drugs to add thrills to their lives. But rather than lead us to our dreams, such choices drag us to our nightmares.

To avoid treading down the wrong path, we need to question our motives. Here are questions to ask. Is this action likely to be constructive or destructive? Do I want to do this because I’m running away from pain or boredom, or am I running to a positive goal? Am I trying to get something for nothing (such as winning money at a casino) or am I willing to invest the time, effort, and expense that is needed to reach my dream? After all, as A.P. Gouthey [2] wrote, “To get profit without risk, experience without danger and reward without work is as impossible as it is to live without being born.”

Risk-taking is our legacy and salvation, for “This nation was built by men who took risks — pioneers who were not afraid of the wilderness, business men who were not afraid of failure, scientists who were not afraid of the truth, thinkers who were not afraid of progress, dreamers who were not afraid of action.” (Brooks Atkinson [3])

Philip Adams [4] explains why it is so important for us to reflect on our actions, goals, and fears, “It seems to me that people have vast potential. Most people can do extraordinary things if they have the confidence or take the risks. Yet most people don't. They sit in front of the telly (TV) and treat life as if it goes on forever.”

And Robert Collier [5] points out the paradox of risk-taking, “Playing safe is probably the most unsafe thing in the world.” This message is constantly repeated. For example Geena Davis [6] said, “If you risk nothing, then you risk everything”; Erica Jong [7] echoes, “If you don't risk anything you risk even more”, Elbert Hubbard [1] wrote, “The greatest mistake you can make, is to be afraid of making one”, and Dag Hammarskjold [8] stated, “It is in playing safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity.” These thinkers are simply expressing the truth that if we refuse to take risks, we will not be able to accomplish anything.
   
When we refuse to take risks, there are terrible consequences. For a life without risk-taking is a life without adventure. After you've read a page in a book, do you endlessly reread the same page? Don't you turn the page to find out how things develop? Life is a book; the risks we take are the pages, and as we turn the pages, we experience the adventure of life. Here are three more thinkers commenting on this theme:

“It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves — in finding themselves.” (André Gide [9]); “It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all.” (William James [10]); “You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.” (Paulo Coelho [11])

Tips and caveats
1.
Only by daring to go too far can we find out how far we can go. So, we mustn’t be afraid of taking big risks. Of course, balance is also called for. That is, we should aim for calculated risks while avoiding rashness and impulsivity. Yet, as Alvin Toffler [12] writes, “It is better to err on the side of daring than the side of caution.” Why is that? Because “We fail more often by timidity than by over-daring.” (David Grayson [13]) Besides, “If there were no bad speculations there could be no good investments; if there were no wild ventures there would be no brilliantly successful enterprises.” (F.W. Hirst [14]) When we play it safe, we just get by, but that may not be good enough in turbulent times.

2. Risk-taking requires trust in yourself and trust in life. Some find this difficult because faith is synonymous with uncertainty. Yet, acting without certainty is pragmatic. For how else can we learn if something will work or not?

3. With courage, we can try anything, but that doesn’t mean we will succeed at everything. So, we must monitor our efforts and make changes in direction or method whenever necessary. At times, we may have to start all over from the beginning. But we need not be afraid of ‘failure,’ for as someone else once wrote, “Of all the people I have ever known, those who have pursued their dreams and failed have lived a much more fulfilling life than those who have put their dreams on a shelf for fear of failure.”

4. If you are riddled with doubt, don’t proceed because half-hearted attempts rarely succeed.

5. Common sense and caution are better than rashness, but don't be too prudent. For “We may by our excessive prudence squeeze out of the life we are guarding so anxiously all the adventurous quality that makes it worth living.” ( Randolph S. Bourne [15]) 

6. It is good to do research and investigate the possible impediments to success, but don’t expect to solve all problems before you begin. Nothing will ever be accomplished, if you wait for the ‘perfect’ plan.

7. Use these quotations as guideposts on your life adventure: “Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.” (George Shinn [16]); “To see what few have seen, you must go where few have been.” (Buddha [17]); “We don't know who we are until we see what we can do.” (Martha Grimes [18]).

8. Learn from Kelly Williams [19], “When I'm in a bout and I stop fighting to win and start fighting not to lose, I'm almost guaranteed to lose because I quit taking chances.”

9. Learn from the poet, Victor Hugo [20], “Be like the bird that, passing on her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she hath wings.” We don’t have wings, but in their place we have resilience. Don’t forget about this inner resource and remember, we are as powerful as we allow ourselves to be.

10. Manage your fears. And to help you do so, here is a practical guidebook that should be on everyone’s bookshelf: Quick Fixes for Everyday Fears: A Practical Handbook to Overcoming 100 Stomach-Churning Fears by Michael Clarkson, Da Capo Press, 2004. It is available here or here or here.

11. Learn from Mahatma Gandhi [21] who said, “There would be nothing to frighten you if you refused to be afraid.” His teaching is important because it reminds us that remaining afraid is a choice.

12. Remember that some things are too important to avoid doing merely because you are afraid, or as Bill Cosby [22] put it, “Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.”  

13. Life has two rules: 1. If you want to succeed, do what you fear; 2. Always remember the first rule.

14. It’s easier to be courageous if you remember that “Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you're scared to death.” (Earl Wilson [23])

15. How is your life going? Are you experiencing any defeats? If you’re not running into roadblocks, tripping over barriers, or crashing into obstacles, it may mean you’re not taking enough risks!

16. To avoid the pain of defeat, some build walls of protection around themselves. These walls are made of excuses to do nothing. But be careful, for if you build a wall too thick, you won’t be able to break free. Yet, if the pain of being a prisoner of mediocrity grows stronger than the pain of breaking free, you’ll be able to advance once again. Here’s how Anais Nin [24] expressed this idea, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

17. Don’t be afraid to take risks because if you win, you’ll be happy, and if you lose, you will be wise.  And as Peter F. Drucker [25] points out, “People who don't take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.” Since the odds are the same, it doesn’t make sense to try and be safe.

18. Learn the Disney [26] 4 C’s. “Somehow I can't believe that there are any heights that can't be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making his dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C's. They are curiosity, confidence, courage and constancy and the greatest of these is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way.”

Risk-Taking Exercise
To get the most satisfaction, pleasure, and meaning from life, we need to constantly take new risks, or regularly step out of our comfort zone. If we’re not doing so, that’s because we’re not spending time thinking about what we want from life or because we don’t know what we want. To solve either problem, make a list of ten things that it would be nice to do, be, or have.

Here’s an example list of five items:

1. It would be nice if I could speak, read, and write Arabic.
2. It would be nice if I could do ballroom dancing.
3. It would be nice if I could repair cars.
4. It would be nice if I could earn extra money.
5. It would be nice if I could visit Australia.

Your list will reveal things that you would like to do, be, or have. Why haven’t you achieved those goals? Is it because of fear? Is everything you want on the other side of fear? Or is it because you are not yet willing to invest the time, effort, and expense to achieve them? Practice self-questioning and ask yourself what is preventing you from reaching your goals. But be careful, don’t look for excuses; rather, look for what you are doing  wrong, what you should be doing, and how to begin doing it. Remember, those who said they never had a chance, never took one.

Concluding Thoughts
It’s sad that, “Most people live and die with their music still unplayed. They never dare to try.” (Mary Kay Ash [27]) Is that the way we should live? Or would we be better off abiding by the following maxim?

“Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.” [28]

Denis Waitley [29] has the final word, “Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.”


[1] Elbert Hubbard (1856~1915, American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher)
[2] A.P. Gouthey (A Christian writer of pamphlets and booklets in the 1920’s and 30’s)
[3] Brooks Atkinson (1894~1984, American theatre critic)
[4] Philip Adams (Born July 12, 1939, Australian broadcaster, film producer, writer, social commentator, and satirist)
[5] Robert Collier (1885~1950, American writer, publisher)
[6] Geena Davis (Born 1957, American actress)
[7] Erica Jong (Author of 21 books,
http://www.ericajong.com/index1.htm)
[8] Dag Hammarskjold (1905~1961, Swedish statesman, Secretary-General of the UN)
[9] André Gide (1869~1951, French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947)
[10] William James (1843~1910, American psychologist and philosopher)
[11] Paulo Coelho (Born 1947, Brazilian lyricist and novelist)
[12] Alvin Toffler (Born 1928, American author)
[13] David Grayson (1870~1946, American journalist, popular essayist)
[14] F.W. Hirst (1873~1953, British journalist, writer and editor of The Economist magazine)
[15] Randolph S. Bourne (1886-1918, American writer)
[16] George Shinn (Born in 1941, Owner of the New Orleans Hornets basketball team, which he bought for $32,500,000 in 1987)
[17] Buddha (c. 563~483 BC)
[18] Martha Grimes (Born May 2, 1931, American author of detective fiction,
http://www.marthagrimes.com/hp/)
[19] Kelly Williams (Born February 2, 1982, a Filipino–American professional basketball player)
[20] Victor Hugo (1802~1885, French poet, dramatist, novelist)
[21] Mahatma Gandhi (1869~1948, political and ideological leader of India during the Indian independence movement)
[22] Bill Cosby (born July 12, 1937, American comedian, actor, author, television producer, educator, musician and activist,
http://billcosby.com/)
[23] Earl Wilson (1934~2005, American baseball star)
[24] Anais Nin (1903~1977, French author who became famous for her published journals, which span more than 60 years, beginning when she was 11 years old and ending shortly before her death)
[25] Peter F. Drucker [25] (1909~2005, American writer, professor, Management Consultant)
[26] Walt Disney (1901~1966)
[27] Mary Kay Ash (1918~2001, American businesswoman, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics)
[28] West Point Cadet Maxim (American military academy)
[29] Denis Waitley (Born 1933, American author, speaker, trainer, peak performance expert,
http://www.deniswaitley.com/).

 

© Chuck Gallozzi
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