As we grow older, we become more risk-adverse. This is perfectly natural and normal, but if you are reading this blog it is not for you. Risk aversion will make you miss out on the biggest opportunities of your life. We all know this, we have all experienced it in one form or another. Risk aversion is that time that you saw the most beautiful person across the room, someone who seemed to absolutely glow, and you didn’t go over and talk to him/her. Risk aversion is that brilliant idea that you had five years ago but never acted on being performed by another company that just sold for 100 million dollars (this actually happened to me and two friends). Risk aversion is the source of regrets that keep us up at night wondering “what if?” I am tired of living life comfortably and safely, always wondering “what if?” If you are too, then read on.
To counter our risk-aversion it is important to understand what causes it. I could write about the inherent causes and psychological factors for 30 pages, but you don’t want to read that, and I don’t want to write it. With that in mind, I have broken the causes for risk aversion down into three primary categories: Fear, Responsibility, and Stability.
Fear of risk comes from close calls that we may have experienced in our lives. Many of us owe these incidents to our good friend, alcohol. I am no exception. I used to be fearless, especially when I had alcohol in my system. This changed when I decided it was a good idea to shotgun 6 too many beers and flip off of a roof into a pool at a house party. All went according to plan, but when I came up from underwater the wall of the pool was an inch from my face and the party was silent. I was then informed that I had come so close to overshooting and smashing my head on the edge of the pool that people were amazed I hadn’t. That incident created a lasting fear for me that drastically decreased my daredevil tendencies.
Responsibility has to do with things that are expected of us. We have jobs where we are expected to show up and fulfill our duties. We can’t do that as well if we break our arm or leg taking a risk. Most of us also have people that depend on us. If we take a risk and it goes badly, we may not be able to provide for them and no matter what we are doing that knowledge is always at the back of our mind.
Stability is very similar to responsibility in that we want to be able to keep doing the things that we are doing and the duties that are expected of us. In my opinion this is the worst culprit when it comes to a decrease in risk-taking. We imagine that if we take a risk the worst will happen and our lives will permanently and negatively change. As humans, we tend to focus on the negative. Just as the universe trends toward entropy, we trend toward doubt. We are conditioned to think like this by the things that we see and hear. We see celebrities work for decades to reach the pinnacle of their career and then lose it all in the blink of an eye when they do or say one thing wrong. These people that we hold to a higher standard crash and burn and this absolutely terrifies us, after all, if it happened to that person it could easily happen to you or me, right? Here’s the thing: If we spend our lives afraid of losing what we have, we will never reach our potential because we will never push our limits. When we stop pushing we stop growing, and when we stop growing we stop living.
I went to a hardcore metal concert of one of my favorite bands, In Hearts Wake, the other night. They came here all the way from Australia and people were thrilled to see them, so thrilled that they formed one of the most vicious mosh pits I have ever seen. I hadn’t been in a pit for almost ten years, but I came to get the full experience and celebrate with everyone else, so I jumped in. About 5 minutes in I took a sharp elbow right to the lip which caused my tooth to cut into it and took a small chunk out of it. It hurt. It hurt quite a bit. But I don’t regret being in the pit. I took that hit and kept on going and had a great time. It’s been two days and the inside of my lip looks two times worse, but I’m glad it looks that way because it reminds me that when the time comes I can take that hit and keep on going.
When we stop taking risks, we stop taking hits. We may be more comfortable, but we will never know our potential. Since taking that hit I have noticed a massive increase in my confidence and decrease in my stress. Things haven’t been worrying me as much because I know what I’m capable of. That knowledge is priceless and I would not have it if I did not take a risk. And that, my friends, is the beauty of taking risks. In the end it is a win-win scenario because you either come out ahead, or come out wiser behind.
All of that is well and good, but we need more than philosophy and positive thoughts to alter lifelong habits. We need a new model for risk and new strategies for dealing with our inherent aversion of it. This will be the topic of my next post.