It’s time to start taking risks. One of the hardest challenges we will face is the fear of risk, or risk aversion. Risk aversion is the behavior of humans, when exposed to uncertainty, to attempt to reduce that uncertainty. Insecure people are survivors who hate taking risks. They require a second option – a plan B – and they have low tolerance for risk and failure. Weren’t we all taught in school to get good grades, and that we must never fail a test?
For years, standardized testing drilled into our heads that we must always succeed, and that we must not even make mistakes, even slightly. We must pass this test. We must get an A+ on this assignment. We must get an A in this class.
This thinking, however, is contrary to real life. In reality, failure is often our greatest teacher. Before Einstein developed the theory of relativity he met academic failure and was expelled from school by his headmaster. Another teacher told him he’d never amount to anything. To top that off, he failed his college entrance exam. He’s now regarded as one of the greatest physicist the world has known. “Anyone who has never made a mistake,” Einstein said, “has never tried anything new.”
The renowned painter Van Gogh was fired by his church after attempting missionary work. He failed to sell his art, closing only one sale, four months before his death. He failed his entrance exam into theology school. His life seemed to have been marred by failure; yet one of his paintings would easily sell for over $100 million today.
Thomas Edison tried over 1,000 times to create the light bulb before he was successful. When asked why he failed so many times, he replied, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 1,000 ways that won’t work.”
The common denominator these men have is that they all accepted the risk of failure, and embraced it, even. This is no argument that education is a bad thing — as a matter of fact, high performance is statistically correlated with GPA. Low performers, on the other hand, fear the acceptance of risk, and buy into the myth of “playing it safe,” or “staying on the safe side.”
Have you ever heard anyone, while discussing their job, say, “It pays the bills,” or, “It gives me job security.” If you don’t accept the risk that comes with the thing that keeps you awake at night, whatever it is you dream about, whatever it is you literally crave, then you accept living a dull, unexciting, and disconnected life.
In our struggle to avoid risk, we ultimately still accept it: the risk of losing our dream. Soren Kirkeegard, a Danish philosopher, said, “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.”
This isn’t only for the unsuccessful. We may gain success and then safeguard it. We fear losing our success, and so we take fewer risks. This, while it may maintain our success for a while, opens us up to the threat of what I call, “plateauing.”
There’s a story of a group of hikers that climbed Mount Everest. Halfway up after braving the cold winds, they stopped at a lodge, where they were offered food and drink. They made friends there, and began singing sings by the campfire. Shortly into their festivities, a few members of the group suggested they should continue on. “No, we’ll stay back, I think we’ve gone far enough,” replied a few members of the group. Half continued on, and the other half stayed and enjoyed the drinks and warm fire. Several hours later the celebration had worn down and the group that decided to stay back watched from the window as the other half of the group, now just small dots in the distance, reached the top of the peak without them.
Don’t be like the other half that became so content with where they were that they stopped shy of success. Accept the risk it takes to succeed, even if it means doubling your rate of failure.
The three main reasons people fail are:
- They don’t feel the need to succeed. Some people feel so secure and fall into what I call the “contentedness trap.” They’re happy, but in the end, they’re ultimately shortchanging themselves.
- They fear success. Success pressures us to continue to succeed. A high performer, for instance, someone who always gets A’s sets a pattern of achievement and must not break it. Poor self-image plays into this well. Some people believe they don’t deserve success. Others avoid it because they fear being lonely — ever heard the saying, “It’s lonely at the top?” My reply is, if it’s lonely at the top, it’s because you’re either making a stand or no one’s following you.
- They fear risk. They don’t want to put their ego, their reputation, their neck on the line. But often, this is what it takes.
If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t like where you live, move. If you don’t like your life, change it. This isn’t a rehearsal. You only get to live once. Success is continual. It’s not an event, it’s a journey. It’s not an accolade, it’s an aggressive, focused movement forward.
To get started on your journey to success, take a look a few books I personally recommend:
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