Quite a bit, it turns out. Let’s unpack:
Risk is about taking chances, about putting ourselves out there, stretching ourselves beyond what we think is possible, taking that leap… yep- the one you’ve been thinking about, tucking away somewhere in your heart and saying to yourself “Someday, I’ll work up the courage to do that”. Bucket lists… they’re more like buckets of risk. Those are the experiences we most want to reach for in our lives, the “somedays” of our beings. They only make it to that list if they take something that we perceive to be big, to make them happen: courage, time, money, courage, support, more training, courage… you get the idea.
The thing I love about risk is this balance it creates in us between dreaming and daring. Imagining and striving toward what’s possible- what we can almost but not quite reach, while knowing that there are stakes- that we might lose something in the process. It’s ultimately about getting vulnerable, putting ourselves out there to chance reaching the possible, knowing that the reward is worth the potential for failure.
Here’s the other thing I love about risk… Risk has lessons embedded into its very existence. Here’s how it goes down: You take a risk, you put yourself out there and you will either reap a reward, or fail. If you reap a reward, you’ve learned that making yourself vulnerable and working to take a chance pays off, and you’ve learned a lesson about success.
That’s great. But what if you fail? Lessons there too. “Learn to fail or fail to learn” is what one of my best teachers, Tal Ben-Shahar says in most of his lectures. Because it’s true. Failure is one of our biggest teachers. We learn more about ourselves and more about what it takes to succeed through failure than through our successes. It usually takes several failures to achieve success, and failure is what teaches us to tap into resilience, perseverance, discipline, creativity and focus. Failure often illuminates a different path, opens us up to other possibilities we never would have seen otherwise, and connects us to the people we care about, who support us. When we talk about happiness at Thrive, we talk about the intersection between meaning and pleasure. Failure falls on the meaning side of things- it’s no fun… at all, but what you get from it is always meaningful.
Taking a risk is actually a win-win proposition. You’ll either have a story of achievement or a story of great lessons learned. The failure stories are usually funnier. And when you think about it like that- it’s playing it safe where we lose out.
How do you take more risks?
Take baby steps. Choose something small to start. Maybe it’s striking up a conversation with a stranger, or that person at work you’ve had your eye on. Maybe it’s taking the leap and crossing something off your discovery list: taking salsa lessons, or signing up for that cooking class. Then maybe… just maybe, you’ll work yourself up to take a look at your big bucket list and go for the skydive or the trek in Nepal. Whatever it is, know that if you’re willing to go “all in”, put your whole heart into it, you can’t lose.
For me… I’m going into my second year of throwing my passion, skills, time and heart into building this beautiful organization we call Thrive with some of the most amazing people I know. It was a big risk- leaving a nice paycheck, a great health insurance policy and the safety and comfort of a regular day job to pursue and create a really big dream. I’d chalk it up to a big fat “win” so far, with an occasional dose of lessons learned:)
Here are a few ways to learn more about the science, formula and benefits of risk, wins and failures. In the meantime, I invite you to post the biggest risk you’ve ever taken on our FB page.
1. Alpinist Grant Statham talks about his experience and formula for risk here.
2. A fun list of the risks the happiest people take everyday here.
3. Kathryn Shulz, “Wrongologist” talks about how we’re wrong.
4. J.K. Rowling speaks at Harvard’s Commencement about the benefits of failing.