“Take risks. If you’re lucky you’ll be rich; if you aren’t you’ll be wise.” – Ancient Chinese Saying
I was raised in a culture of risk avoidance, and I was well into my adulthood before a counselor suggested that I needed to learn how to take risks. Risk is no stranger to me; I took some early risks that didn’t turn out so well (yup, two failed marriages). Yet even those misadventures had beneficial outcomes in several important ways and were followed by a time of growth.
Well-meaning family members advised against having children and, later, going to law school, yet these risks had large rewards for me. Then a few things got difficult, and I stopped taking risks. Stressed, I began choosing the safe routes. Generally, if I was afraid of something, I avoided it. I thought safety was what I needed, but I was unhappy, unfulfilled and dissatisfied with my life. I didn’t see that safety wouldn’t get what I wanted. Protecting what I already have meancs that I never reach for what I want; growth came from facing and overcoming my fears. My first act as my own change agent was to start taking chances.
Eventually, I opened a small weekend business, which I had to report to my full-time employer. I was afraid my employer wouldn’t approve, but I did it anyway (a risk!). My employer reviews my business every year and passes it every time. I see now that all the times I fretted and worried about that situation had been wasted time. My business has been a large step toward a fulfilling life. I’ve helped many people find relief from their physical, emotional, and spiritual pain and the spiritual nature of my business balances the analytical nature of my full-time job. You would think that more work is more effort, but being unbalanced was really a harder way to live.
I took even more small risks, attending classes on intimidating subjects that I didn’t think I could learn. I surprised myself by doing well. I made new friends and tried new things; these actions enhanced my life more than I expected. As I look back, I saw few risks I’d taken that didn’t have sufficient pay-off for me to see it as a benefit. There were no failures, no ridicule, no shame. I hate to think what my life would have been like had I always stayed with what’s safe.
No risk has caused more joy than choosing to love; whether it is a pet or a person, there are always hurts that go with these relationships. Pets have enriched my life so much, but their lives are always shorter than my own. I grieve these endings, but the pets continue to live in my heart. Friends can move physically or emotionally in a way that ends the relationship. Yet in the end, the risk was worth it. I see opening to new pets and friendships an act of personal courage.
This article was first published in Sibyl Magazine, December 2017, page 22.