To Risk or Not to Risk? That is the Question
A client recently asked that I write a column about “Taking Risks”, saying that she could use some encouragement and inspiration in that direction. Taking a risk, or even the proposition of it, is a scary topic for many people and resides somewhere up there in the “least favorite” category along with death and public speaking. Given the fact that people fear it so greatly, I thought this a good opportunity to paint a different perspective on what risk-taking can do for you and how it can take you to places you never dreamed possible.
First, let’s look at the driving force behind the fear. What is it about taking a risk that people are so afraid of? There is a change generally required. There is the unknown and what that might bring. “Will I be rejected? or Will I fail?” are common questions people ask along with,”Do I have what it really takes?”
The truth surrounding these fears however, is that we have never known nor will we ever know, the exact results our actions will bring until our actions are actually taken. Look back over your life at the hundreds of risks you’ve taken and the thousands of choices you have made. None of them guaranteed an outcome in advance. Some choices brought you the results you wanted. Some did not. Whatever the case, I bet you learned a lot more about yourself from those choices that didn’t go your way then those that did. Right?
I am currently reading this wonderful and thought provoking book titled, “The Way of Transition” by William Bridges. In it, he speaks of change and most prominently, transition. He mentions how change doesn’t always require a transition (you get a new boss but there is no upset or riff because of it) but, a change always proceeds a transition (you get a new boss and your world is turned upside down because of it, forcing you to make some difficult choices). He also speaks of the three stages of transition which are met on either side by an ending and a new beginning. The middle ground, and the area that most of us have the greatest difficulty with, is known as the neutral zone. In this zone we are neither here nor there. We are just coming to terms with the “letting go” process (the ending) but we still have no idea what is next (the new beginning.) In this middle ground we are in limbo and airing our laundry, a.k.a. human frailties, for all the world to see. What I love about this whole process is that the place where we are our most creative, vulnerable and open, where the answer to “what is next?” will emerge, takes form in this uncomfortable land of nowhereville.
This is an incredibly valuable and fertile time! You might kick and scream and twist yourself into a pretzel looking for something to hang onto but, no matter how hard you resist, you have to go through this stage to get to the next. There is no short cut. No way to buy or cry yourself out of this one. What comes out of this vulnerable and uncomfortable place is generally a work of art, a creative idea, an awakening that propels you to a higher place. A place that is much more suited to who you are or who you need to become at this stage in your life.
I view taking risks the same way. Yes, there is the unknown but remember, we can never know the end result in advance and we’re kidding ourselves if we think we can. Ask yourself, “What do I have to lose?” So it doesn’t go the way you expect. So what? So you get rejected. So what? Who hasn’t been rejected? So you fail. So what? What did you learn from it and how might you do it differently next time? These are all growth promoting opportunities and let’s face it, wouldn’t things get a little boring if life went our way all of the time? It’s unnatural and would offer little perspective from which to appreciate the “wins.”
The bigger questions to ask yourself are these, “Who will I be if I don’t take the risk and how will I feel about myself?” If it’s something you’re really wanting, something that’s gnawing at you from the inside out, you don’t really have a choice. Choosing not to move forward is saying “No” to Life. It is saying “No” to the creative and brilliant person inside of you. It is saying “No” to what is required to keep you moving forward on your developmental or spiritual journey.
What does taking a risk really take? It takes courage. And what is courageous about any act of man if one is not afraid? Courage is taking action in the face of fear, not in the absence of it.
“So long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.” ——–Goethe