“What? You plan to go to Japan to study the language? You’re nearly 24, without a college education, so why would you want to do that? How will you support yourself? And if you do learn the language, what will you do with it? Aren’t you taking a big gamble?”
Yes, I was taking a gamble, but isn’t that what we all do when we chase after our dreams? So, I didn’t heed the advice of my friends and family and left for Japan. The result was the greatest adventure of my life, which lasted 15 years.
“Are you mad? You want to marry a foreign student? Do you want to bring shame on our family? Only fools would gamble with their lives like that! We forbid you to marry him, and if you do, we will disown you!”
But my wife, who was a Registered Nurse at the time, chose to listen to her heart, rather than her parents. So, we married and shared an adventure in Japan, Hawaii, and Canada spanning 52 years and continue to do so.
These stories are just two examples of the countless opportunities that come our way. Life invites us to say yes to adventure, excitement, and courage. Many, however, turn away from life’s call because of fear. But all the decisions we make have consequences, and the consequences of giving in to fear are lives of regret.
Yet, in unguarded moments, courage can change to rashness or impulsiveness and the gambles we take may turn out to be destructive, rather than constructive. Some, for example, turn to gambling, alcohol, sex, and drugs to add thrills to their lives. But rather than lead us to our dreams, such choices drag us to our nightmares.
To avoid treading down the wrong path, we need to question our motives. Here are questions to ask. Is this action likely to be constructive or destructive? Do I want to do this because I’m running away from pain or boredom, or am I running to a positive goal? Am I trying to get something for nothing (such as winning money at a casino) or am I willing to invest the time, effort, and expense that is needed to reach my dream? After all, “To get profit without risk, experience without danger and reward without work is as impossible as it is to live without being born.” (A.P. Gouthey, A Christian writer of pamphlets and booklets in the 1920’s and 30’s.)
Risk-taking is our legacy and salvation, for “This nation was built by men who took risks — pioneers who were not afraid of the wilderness, business men who were not afraid of failure, scientists who were not afraid of the truth, thinkers who were not afraid of progress, dreamers who were not afraid of action.” (Brooks Atkinson)
Philip Adams explains why it is so important for us to reflect on our actions, goals, and fears, “It seems to me that people have vast potential. Most people can do extraordinary things if they have the confidence or take the risks. Yet most people don’t. They sit in front of the telly (TV) and treat life as if it goes on forever.”
And Robert Collier points out the paradox of risk-taking, “Playing safe is probably the most unsafe thing in the world.” This message is constantly repeated. For example Geena Davis said, “If you risk nothing, then you risk everything”; Erica Jong echoes, “If you don’t risk anything you risk even more”, Elbert Hubbard wrote, “The greatest mistake you can make, is to be afraid of making one”, and Dag Hammarskjold stated, “It is in playing safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity.” These thinkers are simply expressing the truth that if we refuse to take risks, we will not be able to accomplish anything.
When we refuse to take risks, there are terrible consequences. For a life without risk-taking is a life without adventure. After you’ve read a page in a book, do you endlessly reread the same page? Don’t you turn the page to find out how things develop? Life is a book; the risks we take are the pages, and as we turn the pages, we experience the adventure of life. Here are three more thinkers commenting on this theme:
“It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves — in finding themselves.” (André Gide); “It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all.” (William James); “You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.” (Paulo Coelho)
It is not death that we need to fear, but an inadequate life. Why? Because life is not lost when we die. It is only lost while we live. In is lost in opportunities that we allow to slip through our fingers. In each moment of inaction, we die bit by bit. When we waste time, we kill it. When we kill time, we murder life. If life is marching by, shouldn’t we be joining in? After all, one-third of our life is spent sleeping and another third in growing up and growing old. How much is left to live? We are Mayflies. Our lives are fleeting; we’re here a single day.
Obviously, the time to start living is now. But the choice is ours. Either we let our lives slip away by not doing what we dream of, or we get up and join the parade. Yes, life is brief, but don’t despair; you still have 100% of the rest of your life left. We didn’t choose where and when we would be born, nor can we choose where, when, and how we will die. But we can choose whether we live or exist. And if we choose to live, we can decide how we wish to live.
Life expresses itself in action. It is not, “I think and therefore I am,” but “I act and therefore I live.” This assumes our actions are done with awareness. Once we accept that life is not a dress rehearsal — we have only one shot at it — we will be more inclined to act. How, then, should we act? Viktor E. Frankl offers one suggestion, “Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.”
We have to be willing to accept what life gives us. But we don’t have to take it and leave it; we can take it and change it. Isn’t that why we’re here? To make the world a better place? As Mark Twain said, “Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.” Let’s not take life for granted, but appreciate each moment. After all, it doesn’t matter how much we have; it only matters how much we appreciate what we have. Also, appreciate others. For when we appreciate their great deeds, we magically share in their goodness.
To enjoy life to the fullest, we need to know where we are, where we want to be, and how to get there. True, the road may be tough. So, you may be tempted to say, “Life is hard.” If you do, ask yourself, “Hard compared to what?” Besides, even if we’re not where we want to be, as long as we are advancing toward our goal, we can enjoy the present moment. Life doesn’t happen to us, it happens from us because we create it. We can avoid stumbling through life by focusing on growing throughout life.
We already know life is expressed by action, but the crown jewel of action is love. Kahlil Gibran explains, “Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.” Victor Hugo‘s explanation is equally valid, “Life is a flower of which love is the honey.” What is the message of love? Simply this, the major purpose of our life is the happiness and joy it brings to others.
Tips and caveats
1. Look at these two sentences; what do they say? (1) OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE. (2) HAPPINESSISNOWHERE. When people are asked to read these sentences, some will say, “Opportunity (or Happiness) is nowhere.” Others will say, “Opportunity (Happiness) is now here! These sentences are perfect metaphors for life, for both interpretations (nowhere or now here) are always simultaneously true. Which one is true for us depends on what we look for. We always find what we look for, whether it’s bright opportunities or doom and gloom.
2. Any job we accept entails some risks, but don’t run from risks and uncertainty. Can you experience an adventure or encounter a discovery if the outcome is certain from the beginning? No, so welcome uncertainty for it is what makes life an adventure and what leads to many discoveries. It is similar with taking risks. Refusing to take one is like refusing to go on a roller coaster ride. Sure, we can go through life without taking risks or going on roller coasters, but it would be a life without thrills, exhilaration, and excitement. Is that the kind of life you want?
3. Also, by embracing uncertainty, we remain flexible, a quality which is needed for success in a rapidly changing world. Besides, by accepting uncertainty, we leave ourselves open to opportunities that would never have occurred to us. By allowing life to unfold as it chooses to, we discover many new opportunities. Finally, here are two small, but powerful, books to help guide you on your life path: (1) The Angel Inside by Chris Widener; (2) Twelve Pillars by Jim Rohn and Chris Widener.
4. Only by daring to go too far can we find out how far we can go. So, we mustn’t be afraid of taking big risks. Of course, balance is also called for. That is, we should aim for calculated risks while avoiding rashness and impulsivity. Yet, as Alvin Toffler writes, “It is better to err on the side of daring than the side of caution.” Why is that? Because “We fail more often by timidity than by over-daring.” (David Grayson, pen name for Ray Stannard Baker) Besides, “If there were no bad speculations there could be no good investments; if there were no wild ventures there would be no brilliantly successful enterprises.” (F.W. Hirst) When we play it safe, we just get by, but that may not be good enough in turbulent times.
5. Risk-taking requires trust in yourself and trust in life. Some find this difficult because faith is synonymous with uncertainty. Yet, acting without certainty is pragmatic. For how else can we learn if something will work or not?
6. With courage, we can try anything, but that doesn’t mean we will succeed at everything. So, we must monitor our efforts and make changes in direction or method whenever necessary. At times, we may have to start all over from the beginning. But we need not be afraid of ‘failure,’ for as someone else once wrote, “Of all the people I have ever known, those who have pursued their dreams and failed have lived a much more fulfilling life than those who have put their dreams on a shelf for fear of failure.”
7. If you are riddled with doubt, don’t proceed because half-hearted attempts rarely succeed.
8. Common sense and caution are better than rashness, but don’t be too prudent. For “We may by our excessive prudence squeeze out of the life we are guarding so anxiously all the adventurous quality that makes it worth living.” (Randolph S. Bourne)
9. It is good to do research and investigate the possible impediments to success, but don’t expect to solve all problems before you begin. Nothing will ever be accomplished, if you wait for the ‘perfect’ plan.
10. Use these quotations as guideposts on your life adventure: “Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.” (George Shinn); “To see what few have seen, you must go where few have been.” (Buddha); “We don’t know who we are until we see what we can do.” (Martha Grimes).
11. Learn from Kelly Williams, “When I’m in a bout and I stop fighting to win and start fighting not to lose, I’m almost guaranteed to lose because I quit taking chances.”
12. Learn from the poet, Victor Hugo, “Be like the bird that, passing on her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she hath wings.” We don’t have wings, but in their place we have resilience. Don’t forget about this inner resource and remember, we are as powerful as we allow ourselves to be.
13. Manage your fears. And to help you do so, here is a practical guidebook that should be on everyone’s bookshelf: Quick Fixes for Everyday Fears: A Practical Handbook to Overcoming 100 Stomach-Churning Fears by Michael Clarkson,
14. Learn from Mahatma Gandhi who said, “There would be nothing to frighten you if you refused to be afraid.” His teaching is important because it reminds us that remaining afraid is a choice.
15. Remember that some things are too important to avoid doing merely because you are afraid, or as Bill Cosby put it, “Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.”
16. Life has two rules: (1) If you want to succeed, do what you fear; (2) Always remember the first rule.
17. It’s easier to be courageous if you remember that “Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you’re scared to death.” (Earl Wilson)
18. How is your life going? Are you experiencing any defeats? If you’re not running into roadblocks, tripping over barriers, or crashing into obstacles, it may mean you’re not taking enough risks!
19. To avoid the pain of defeat, some build walls of protection around themselves. These walls are made of excuses to do nothing. But be careful, for if you build a wall too thick, you won’t be able to break free. Yet, if the pain of being a prisoner of mediocrity grows stronger than the pain of breaking free, you’ll be able to advance once again. Here’s how Anais Nin expressed this idea, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
20. Don’t be afraid to take risks because if you win, you’ll be happy, and if you lose, you will be wise. And as Peter F. Drucker points out, “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.” Since the odds are the same, it doesn’t make sense to try and be safe.
21. Learn the Disney 4 C’s. “Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making his dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C’s. They are curiosity, confidence, courage and constancy and the greatest of these is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way.”
To get the most satisfaction, pleasure, and meaning from life, we need to constantly take new risks, or regularly step out of our comfort zone. If we’re not doing so, that’s because we’re not spending time thinking about what we want from life or because we don’t know what we want. To solve either problem, make a list of ten things that it would be nice to do, be, or have.
Here’s an example list of five items:
1. It would be nice if I could speak, read, and write Arabic.
2. It would be nice if I could do ballroom dancing.
3. It would be nice if I could repair cars.
4. It would be nice if I could earn extra money.
5. It would be nice if I could visit Australia.
Your list will reveal things that you would like to do, be, or have. Why haven’t you achieved those goals? Is it because of fear? Is everything you want on the other side of fear? Or is it because you are not yet willing to invest the time, effort, and expense to achieve them? Practice self-questioning and ask yourself what is preventing you from reaching your goals. But be careful, don’t look for excuses; rather, look for what you are doing wrong, what you should be doing, and how to begin doing it. Remember, those who said they never had a chance, never took one.
It’s sad that, “Most people live and die with their music still unplayed. They never dare to try.” (Mary Kay Ash) Is that the way we should live? Or would we be better off abiding by the following maxim?
“Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.” (West Point Cadet Maxim)
- You Unstuck: Mastering the New Rules of Risk-taking in Work and Life by Libby Gill
- Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk by Ben Carson
- Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions by Gerd Gigerenzer
- Courage: The Joy of Living Dangerously by Osho
- Courage: Overcoming Fear and Igniting Self-Confidence by Debbie Ford and Wayne W. Dyer
- Find Your Courage: 12 Acts for Becoming Fearless at Work and in Life by Margie Warrell
- Kelley Kalafatich: Living with Courage: Embracing Fear to Follow Your Heart
- Nadine Champion: 10 Seconds of Courage: Life Lessons from a Fighter
- Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly: Be passionate. Be courageous. Be your best.