The Biggest Risk is Not Taking One

Life is a series of calculated risks. You have to look at the possibilities and the potential outcomes and make a decision about moving forward to going in a different direction. In the words of Andre 3000: “Nothing is for certain, and nothing is forever.”

Attempting anything at all comes from our ability to process what we perceive will happen and deciding if that is what we want for ourselves. There is a chance that we could walk outside the door and everything in our day could go wrong. We don’t stop at green lights, and we don’t look inside our Starbucks for cockroaches or spiders. We take the risk and move forward, with the notion that things will go well.

There are times when risks are not as easy to figure out. There are times when the percentages are stacked against us. There are times when taking a risk may just be an unpopular move even to our own family members. When a difficult risk works out, then it as easy move for us to know that it was right. If we fail, then we should chalk it up to experience. Failure is a topic for another article. The topic here is taking a risk.

Some risks we should just try and give it a shot.

Taking a risk in love

When you see someone across the room, how do you know that you won’t connect with them? How do you know that they might not be your soulmate. There is risk in approaching anyone. There is risk of rejection. We are looking looking to be loved. There is no reason (except if you are married) not to talk to someone with the hopes that this might turn into something that you didn’t expect. When they write their number down on a napkin and hand it to you, it is a pretty special experience. That experience and the feeling of happiness would never have happened without taking that chance. I met my wife under interesting circumstances in a place where I didn’t expect to find my wife. She took a risk, and we made a connection in our first phone call that I didn’t expect. None of the wonderful years we have spent togehter would have happened, without that chance meeting and that chance conversation at Lush in Santa Monica on a hot September Saturday night.

Taking a risk in career

The average American changes jobs and companies ten to fifteen times in a career. We find work, we fall into a career, and we get paid an honest wage for our work. We don’t always know what is going to happen. Will we get promoted? Will we get a new position? Sometimes we become miserable in our position. Sometimes our boss is horrible. Sometimes we know we need to get what we are worth. Having a job is safe. Not having a job is an opportunity to look inside before re-entering the job market. Is this the job that I want? Is this the job that I am meant to do for another five years? How do I see myself? Steve Jobs famously said in his Stanford Commencement Speech:

“I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Is taking the risk to a new line of employment important? Have you been miserable? If so, then it’s time to take that challenge, learn, develop, and help yourself go in a different direction. The same old will not make you happy, it will only bring home a paycheck. A step back to move forward in happiness is important. Experience is not always a determining factor for employers. Sometimes, it comes down to enthusiasm, a desire to learn, and sense of hunger.

Taking a risk in missing out on something

Sometimes, in order to move ahead it is imperative to give up something else in order to improve. Maybe you will need to take a Monday night class in the Fall to learn how to code. That might mean you don’t see any Monday Night Football. Maybe you will need to take a Saturday seminar to learn how to use a new piece of software. If this is the case, then you might miss that barbecue or that birthday party. Maybe you need to get a Masters to move ahead in your industry. Giving up the weekends to study and write papers will be tough at first, but when it’s over and you advance in salary and position, you won’t even remember what you missed out on.

Taking a risk that leads to failure

You might have though that selling your cat t-shirts and pillowcases on Etsy was an awesome idea. It turns out that it was a great idea, but it’s just a saturated market. The bad news is that you made 500 and only sold four to your mom and your sister. The good news is that you kept your accounting job and didn’t sink everything you had into your side hustle. You probably learned a lot in a short time because it was something that you wanted to do. The feeling of it was immense and you were intoxicated with the possibility. Maybe your marketing strategy could have been better. Maybe your price point was off; maybe your message was wrong. Maybe you should keep trying to figure it out. There are still options, but in my opinion, it’s better to know than still be guessing.

Taking a risk where you will be judged

This is one of the most interesting things about society. If you put yourself out there enough, you will find that not everyone will agree with you at all times. If you write long enough, you will get a mean tweet like: “Thank you for wasting the last nine minutes of my life.” or “Stupid point idiot.” Most people are afraid to try because they are afraid of rejection or because they are afraid of being judged. In order to be authentic, in order to be true to yourself, you need to get your voice out and get your ideas heard. It’s not easy when you know that there is a possibility, someone might let you know about the other side of things or even try to refute your ideas. This is sad, but dangerous.

Taking a risk where you have to admit you don’t understand

As a teacher, I usually know more than my students. When I was a younger teacher, I would sometimes make something up to answer a question or maybe try to talk my way through it. I thought that by not knowing the answer, I might look silly or unprofessional. I sometimes arrived at the right answer, but more often than not, I got it wrong. Today, I don’t even flinch. There is always something new that has changed or something that might be a new way of doing things. I need to look and find out what I don’t know. There’s no reason for someone not to try something these days or learn something new. Type a question into Google that you don’t know and you can start on a neverending journey or information (or misinformation) that may get you to an answer you didn’t have before you started.

Taking a risk where you will be vulnerable

This is one of the hardest things to do in life. We all want a level of comfort and we would like to know that what we do will make us look good. Trust that you can deal with the outcome. So many times, we believe that there is no way for us to be able to deal with what will happen. If this is the case, then we must know that we can get through anything. You should know that you are smart enough to figure something out. Most of the time, none of us will truly hit rock bottom, but we should know that going to that place might be something that is challenging to work through. I took a gigantic risk and proposed a Digital Filmmaking Class at my school. For the first thirteen years of my teaching life, I was an English Teacher. From that risk the class class turned into a program. I had no idea who would sign up for the class I wrote. I had no idea what they wanted to learn. I had no textbook and no curriculum. I felt very much like a first year teacher all over again. What I learned about myself during that process was far more powerful than what I endured in teaching students script to final film. I felt vulnerable for a long time, until the fruits of the work started coming out in the student work.

It’s not always okay to jump in the pool without knowing how to swim. Risks should be calculated with odds of success. Risks are scary. Risks can be life changing. Risks can change the way we feel or the way we see ourselves.

I prefer to know the answer by putting myself out there, than to live my life wondering.

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If you liked this article, here are some other stories of mine that might interest you:

I Am Not Writing Enough

Not Enough Time

Supporting the Habit of Writing

Do it for the Art, Not for the Sale