Risk Atrophy

Risk plays an important part in our lives and I have found that traditional jobs stifle our appetite for risk. I started thinking about this while reading “Antifragile” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The large point of the book is that there are systems that not only survive risky and uncertain times, but thrive because of them. These systems can be thought of as ‘anti-fragile’ and their opposites as ‘fragile’. Traditional ‘9–5’ jobs, as the book points out, tend to be fragile as uncertainty to things like revenue and employees are considered very poor. Because of this, jobs tend to promote a perverse view of risk, one that infects the worker.

Today, I am one of those workers. In college, I found that I was willing to go off and take risks in my life more readily. In order to meet my wife, I had to go out and talk to lots of different women and open myself up socially. For classes, I was willing to take the risk of not going if I thought the class did not matter that much. Regardless if these were wise choices, they were mine as were the results. If a beautiful woman rejected me or I missed an important assignment, I would have to deal with it.

However, when I left college, I changed in ways I haven’t appreciated until recently. I was told to act in a certain way out of the fear that someone would not like it, not out of a poor reaction I witnessed. I would complete a lot of assignments out of fear that someone would ask for them and not because they were actually important. I would stay until 5pm everyday regardless of my workload in case someone saw me and thought I was skimping. I was much more fragile in workplace because the workplace needed fragile people.

This thought process slowly morphed my view of risk and put me in a state of ‘risk atrophy’. In my professional life, smaller and smaller levels of uncertainty were beginning to seem ‘risky’ and without noticing, this infected ‘personal’ professional life. When I decided I wanted to learn a new skill or start a blog on some subject, I would think of an objection. Then, a stress related pain, right in the center of my chest would present itself. Inevitably, I would give up on the activity. This went on for several years. Eventually, I stopped focusing on my ‘personal’ professional goals and just focused on my family and health.

But today, we are trying something new. I am developing a system to target this risk aversion and grow it until it becomes healthier. By slowly re-introducing ‘health risk’ back into my life, the expected result is that my lifestyle will improve, much like adding a healthy diet and exercise can improve your overall being. I don’t know how successful this will be, but the life I’ve been limiting myself to is simply not worth it.

I have lived in comfort. Now it’s time to give discomfort a chance.

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