How to risk it all -- and live to tell about it

Photo by kool_skatkat

Drugs. Skydiving. Changing jobs. Going to a party where you don't know anyone except the host.

No, this is not my weekend schedule. These are all types of RISKs, which I put in caps because most of us are scared of it.

I'm certainly petrified. That's what being in the midst of your second quarter-life crisis will do to you. Yes, the second. The first was senior year of college. Now I'm four years out, just past my 26th mile marker, and I find myself here again.

No one is more surprised than I am. I mean, is it fair to have two crises before age 30? Or did I miss something in the Life & Living Manual that warns I'll really be having several of these fun upheavals each decade?

Anyway. The upshot is that I've been doing lots of thinking about next steps. And naturally, every step requires taking a RISK.

Now, I know that RISK means different things for different people. One person's adventure is another's path to anxiety meds. No one approaches it exactly the same way. Hence the opening list.

But the more I turn it over in my head and talk to others, the more I see a crack in the code. Though RISK varies in form, RISK-taking has three universal steps: discerning, deciding, and daring.

Let's break these out for a closer look:


Several months ago, I was venting to my mother that I'd never done anything exciting, never had a big adventure, never went crazy -- which for some reason in my mind all equated to living abroad.

My mother replied, "Is living abroad really want you want? What's at the root of all this?"

That stopped my rant in its tracks. I shut my mouth. Mulled it over. And answered, "I feel caged in. I haven't traveled in a while. I'm tired of being at home all the time."

And there was my answer. In this case, I didn't need -- or even want -- to uproot my life, grab a visa, and move to Timbuktu; I just had to plan an overseas vacation.

Takeaway: Identify the itch. Sometimes your intellect jumps the gun and takes you to a solution before you've diagnosed the problem. But what's really bugging you? If no solutions existed and your only recourse was to blurt out what was keeping you up at night, what would you say? What will make your heart stop tugging on your ribs to get your attention?


I enjoy being employed. I enjoy what I do. But recently I looked ahead five to 10 years, and realized I don't ever see myself as a nonprofit manager. I am a writer, so a writer I shall be.

It comes out so easy and neat in a blog post. But that simple statement -- that firm decision -- came after years of agita, questioning, and tip-toeing around the obvious truth.

Why the run-around? Because I wasn't committing to what I'd discerned. In fact, I was flat-out ignoring it. And not until I stuck my flag in the ground did my mind feel confident and calm about what my heart knew all along.

Takeaway: No one can make you stick to your guns. In the best cases, you'll know you made the right decision because you'll feel at peace. In less clear-cut cases, you rely on hope to see you through the worry. At the very least, choose liminality over limbo so that you keep growing, even if you're not sure towards what.


Here is my favorite discovery to date about RISK-taking: Once I made one big decision, every other decision has flowed more easily from that.

For example, I'm focusing on writing children's books in my spare time. So I changed volunteer activities from my known ESL class to an unknown kids & arts program. I've said no to more trips/engagements/commitments because I must leave time to write. And I'm putting myself out there to join writing groups and receive critical feedback.

All these decisions carry their own level of RISK. But I'm not fretting as much, because deciding made me braver. Indeed, I feel more comfortable taking incremental RISKs -- monthly, weekly, daily -- because I'm more certain and assured in the end game now.

A note on daring: I'm not a 'pack up and run' person. I have to research. I have to coordinate. But the prep work doesn't mean I don't take the risk ultimately. I just get there in the way that makes me most comfortable taking it.

Sounds paradoxical, I know. By definition, risks are supposed to push you out of your comfort zone. I'm just saying that you don't have to upend your entire M.O. to do it, because then you'll only end up stressed, confused, and unproductive. And what was the point of going in a new direction if you're a babbling wreck when/if you get there?

Takeaway: Act on your decision. That's all RISK-taking really is -- moving forward with a new idea. Besides, you already cleared two other hurdles when you figured out what you wanted and committed to it. Now you're at the doing stage, so run with it!

So where does this all get us? To the point where RISK becomes risk -- a natural, cyclical part of our lives, as essential as food and sleep if we intend to reach anywhere of worth.

The key is knowing how to risk well, often, and with intention, so that the results are not just what you get, but what you want.