I Googled “risk quotes” and got back 159 million results in 0.29 seconds. Given my renewed focus on the written word (especially with respect to this blog) it seemed appropriate to get this post going with a quote about risk from a great writer.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
~ T.S. Eliot
One thing I have discovered about being a writer is that every time you hit “publish” on that blog post, or submit work to a journal, your editor, or your friend, or even share a paragraph with a writer’s group; you’re putting a part of yourself on display and opening it up to critique. Not many people are comfortable taking that kind of risk and for a long time I was certainly one of them. I thought my skills were deficient, my vocabulary limited, and my thoughts uninteresting. The rewards did not seem to outweigh the cost so I just didn’t write, but at some point something in me changed.
“The policy of being too cautious is the greatest risk of all.”
~ Jawaharlal Nehru
I can’t point to the exact moment, but I think a big part of it was when I decided to start singing. As some of you may know, I took singing lessons and surprised my wife with a performance for our anniversary. It was mindbogglingly terrifying, but I did it, and in the year that followed that initial performance I made more than half a dozen other appearances on stage at various open mic nights and other events in the city. I even sang at a charity event for the mayor where, for the first time, my kids were there to watch.
“Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
~ E. E. Cummings
So what is it about humans that see us go to such great lengths just to avoid risk? Certainly there are moments in human history where taking risks meant a greater chance of getting eaten by some large animal with claws and big teeth. So how come our species can come so far yet still struggle with the act of taking even one non life-threatening risk?
I’m not saying that it should be all risk all the time, but I find it extremely disheartening when I don’t even see a modicum of effort put into doing something differently or for the first time. If we listen to Yoda (“Do… or do not. There is no try.”) then we are left with only two things: success and failure, and the thought of the latter is what kept me on the sidelines for quite a long time, and what continues to keep others in the role of passive observer. Personally, I think it’s a real shame.
“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.”
~ Peter F. Drucker
Maybe it’s because I’ve experienced failure and lived to write about it. Maybe it’s because I worked as a people manager for a decade and saw how amazing it was when someone did something outside their comfort zone. Maybe it’s because after years of sitting on the fence I finally submitted something for publication. Or maybe it’s because I have children and I want them to experience everything life has to offer. No matter how you look at it, the only way to get stuff done is to actually do it.
“Life is not tried it is merely survived / If you’re standing outside the fire.”
~ Garth Brooks
So go out and write that novel, paint that picture, write that song, perform that experiment, open that dusty textbook, apply for that job, or call that person you met at the gym. Do more than merely survive. I promise you will not get eaten by a large animal with claws and big teeth.