Taking Big Chances and Knowing If It’s Worth the Risk

Leap of faith (by Tracie).

“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” ~Denis Waitley

Taking risks isn’t the secret to life, but taking risks does mean we are never at risk of doing nothing.

Nine months ago, almost to the day, I stepped off a plane onto German soil. I left behind everything I knew, and almost everyone I knew. I moved to a place where I couldn’t understand anyone to live with someone I had never lived with before.

But let’s back up. What exactly made me take the risk of moving to a totally foreign country, without a job, a plan, or any knowledge of the local area or language? The short answer is love. 

My significant other had been offered a job in Germany, the land of his mother’s birth, and asked if I wanted to come with him. But that is just the short version.

Lots of people would consider a partner taking a job in a foreign country a deal breaker. A big part of the reason I was willing to take the risk and move across an ocean was love, but the other part is perhaps more important: I weighed the risk of moving to Germany against the risk of doing nothing—and Germany won.

I was in a life situation that lent itself to my taking this kind of risk. I had just finished my second year of national service with AmeriCorps, and I didn’t have any full time job offers. I didn’t like the city I was living in, I didn’t have any debt or dependents, and my parents and siblings were in excellent health, but lived far away.

I weighed the risk of moving to a strange land against losing my significant other by staying where I was, with no job, and no family nearby.

It seemed like an easy answer, although I still went through a risk-evaluating process I had honed through years of previous experiences. In the end, I decided that the risk of doing nothing was far greater than the risk of moving continents.

Of course, I couldn’t have come to that decision or even developed a risk-evaluating process without experiences in not taking risks.

During my undergraduate studies, I was offered an exciting opportunity to study in Thailand. Thailand has nothing to do with my studies, and the opportunity would have taken me away from everyone I knew and thrust me into a very foreign country.

I was afraid of the culture shock, the possibility of extending my studies, the language barrier, and just about everything else. I thought it sounded much more sensible to stay where I was, with my friends, and to continue my studies the way I had planned.

Later, when I heard the stories from the students who had recently returned from Thailand, I knew I had made the wrong choice. I had blindly let fear be the only deciding factor of my decision, and I promised myself I wouldn’t let that happen again.

So when I was again faced with an opportunity to move somewhere totally foreign, I knew I had to take the risk.

Sometimes my hands shook as I packed my three boxes of stuff, which was all I could afford to ship across an ocean. Looking into the unknown was terrifying, but I had weighed the risk, and so I nervously walked onto a plane and moved to Germany.

To most people, I looked like a total idiot, or at least, I looked like someone who had risked way too much. The fact was I had calculated the risk for myself, based on factors most people couldn’t see or didn’t know, and I knew that emotionally, mentally, and physically I could handle the risk I was taking.

Nine months after I took what seemed like a crazy risk, but was actually a very calculated one, I am still living in Germany. I speak decent German, I have a part-time job, and I am attending graduate school for free.

My risk paid off, in part because I was able to think about what I was risking and what I would have risked by doing nothing.

When you are faced with a decision and are wondering if it is worth the risk, it may help to ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I risking more than I am able, physically, mentally, or emotionally, at this time?
  • Will I be able to take this opportunity again at some other point?
  • Are my fears based on real danger, or just on the fear of the unknown?
  • What other possible opportunities do I risk by taking/not taking this opportunity?
  • Is the risk of doing nothing greater than what I risk by taking this opportunity?

If we think about risks with these questions and process the risk of doing nothing, we are likely to make choices that seem risky, even crazy, to others, but make sense for each of us in our own lives.

The truth is that no matter how much we try to avoid risk and hide from pain, it will still find us, even if it is just in the form of regret. It’s far better to weigh each risk for ourselves and decide which risks are right for us to take than to always let the fear of risks force us to take the risk of doing nothing.

Photo by John Nakamura Remy

About Autumn Elizabeth

Autumn Elizabeth is a writer, scholar and traveler. Her writing has appeared in When Women Waken, The Rumpus, the Journal of Bisexuality and more. She is a Northern California native and currently resides in Paris. She also runs a website dedicated to global spiritual journeys called Searching Sophia’s Pockets.

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  • Lily

    Autumn, such a timely post for me as I am heading to Germany in less than 3 months!!! Unlike you, Im going because it is something I have wanted to do for many years – I have a great bunch of friends there but no partner, no job, no uni and not a great knowledge about the language. But still, I cant wait for it. And looking at your list of questions, I can see that I am ready, I am nervous about the unknown, but perfectly placed for an adventure, perhaps even a long term adventure. So many think I am crazy to leave a job I love, in a country I have worked hard to call home – but I will regret it if I never try. I am ready to pack my life, my fears and just try 🙂

    Thank you, your post was a sign (amongst so many others that seem to be coming lately) that I am on the right path. I hope it all works out. Wishing you luck with your stay there 🙂

  • Kai

    The risk of doing nothing is present in everybody. I’m glad you were able to take that decision and move to Germany. Risks make me very uncomfortable but I noticed that almost every risk I took benefited me.

  • The YOU Coach

    Did something very similar and the experiences were priceless! Congratulations on your bravery and boldness to take risks. Life is all about taking risks.

  • mary

    I’m just moving across my state, now I feel silly for being so scared! I’m scared of leaving the familiar, there’s a lot I like about my city and I have friends and a decent job setup where I am. But I’m also craving change and new perspective, and I’m at a point in my life where it’s not exactly easy to move, but I know it will only get harder from this point. Love the questions at the end, they’ve already helped me start to name my nebulous fears and evaluate whether they’re really valid.

  • Autumn,

    I absolutely love posts like these, and yours is especially lovely. Mustering up the courage to move halfway across the world is no easy task, but your bravery is wonderful. You can’t let your life be ruled by the fear of failure, and your article addresses that well.

    Stoicism — branch of philosophy — asks the individual to figure out what they can actually lose if failure or misfortune comes. The overall idea is that if a venture fails you will still have your health, body, mind, and drive. Nobody can take those away, so when weighing risks keep in mind that the worst that can happen is failure. Failure isn’t that big of consequence, so that’s awesome news.

    Anyway, great article, and best of luck in Deutschland.


  • Mary,

    All big changes are scary. Whether it be moving across the state, or to Tokyo, it’ll be scary because you really are uprooting yourself from everything you know. Stay brave, open, and excited for all the new opportunities that a move will bring!

    Cheers and best of luck.

  • Don’t feel silly. All changes can be scary. Glad you liked the questions, and many blessings on your move.

  • So glad you liked it. I will have to look into that branch of philosophy more.

  • Thanks so much. I agree, life is about risks, and more.

  • Congrats on the risks you were able to take.

  • Many blessings on your journey to Germany. Glad you are ready for the risk.

  • Check out Letters from a Stoic by Seneca. It’s pretty slick.

  • Sorry but…

    Sorry to be a Debbie downer but this is not what i was expecting at all.

    Yes you were afraid, but from the get-go you had more to gain than lose. You didn’t have a job or job offers, you run a young blog which can be done anywhere, you didn’t like where you lived and nothing about your family (or anything for that matter) was holding you back. So you didn’t like where you lived and couldn’t get a job – that’s usually why people move.

    New Country? i can understand that but you’re SO got a what I presume is a pretty decent job in an area that will pay for your education AND he was willing to bring you along even though you made it clear even to us that you have a little to no job history and can’t get a job. That seems like a pretty good deal – even if you end up hating the guy you get to hang out in a foreign country and go to school while saving tens of thousands of dollars overall even if you include the cost of moving.

    Respectfully, it sounds like a pretty sweet deal – if you’re going to talk about regret why don’t you point out how being a “traveling Christian feminist” and an “herbist” didn’t really work out but it was clutch your boyfriend got a real job to fund your hippie drum circle. Must be nice to be taken care of, the rest of us have to go back to work now.

  • I like where you asked we ask ourselves if our fears are based on real danger or of the unknown… Usually fear of the unknown is prominent when faced at a crossroads. I myself am reaching that point and my fears are making their way over. But after reading this, my fears have calmed down and it really helped seeing the perspective of someone else taking a similar risk. Thank you for this.

  • Me and my hubby both moved to Vancouver from Belgium without any job offers… We left our lives as lawyer and physiotherapist to start our own photography business. Best decission ever! Yes, there are cultural differences and yes, I had some pretty embaracing language mistakes (going commando is not what I thought it was, hahaha), but it changes you as a person and broadens your horizon to jump into the unknown. Glad you’re enjoying Germany and you’re spot on that the risk of doing nothing is the worst of all!

  • Abroad

    Sharing your risk is very sweet indeed; although, as Debbie Downer points out … it wasn’t much of a risk. The simple fact is that you had nothing to lose moving to Germany. You did not have family or any job security, retirement plan, pension, etc, etc, etc.

    I also took the same risk as you. I am living in Germany with my husband … 4 years now. I left a very high paying job, a very good retirement plan, excellent health care, and my entire family that I love dearly.

    Was the risk worth if to me. NO. I weighed the options over and over and over. I also moved for that 4-letter word = love.

    I also weighed the pros and cons endlessly …

  • Thank you for you critique. I would like to thank you deeply for bringing up the point of privilege. While I didn’t feel this post was the place to discuss the plethora of privileges I get from being a white citizen of the U.S.A., they are part of what made my move to Germany possible, and so I thank you for allowing me to acknowledge them.

    I do feel there are a few misunderstandings, most likely based on things, such as my work history, personal finances, and other choices I made at the time, that I chose not to put in this post, the common misunderstanding of the service and dedication AmeriCorps members give to the USA and its people, and perhaps others of which I am unaware.

    I am sorry you were not able to find as much wisdom in my post and website as you wanted, but I hope upon further reflection you can find some useful nuggets. I wish you the best on your life journey, and I hope your job continues to be just one of many blessings in life.

  • I am so sorry that you feel the risk as not worth it. I know personally how hard it is too be away from some loved ones in order to be close to others. I wish you the best of luck as you continue to live out your risk in Germany.

  • Thank you so much for your kind words. What an amazing risk you took! Thanks for being brave and doing something different. Enjoy Belgium!

  • You are most welcome. Thank you for reading and best of luck with your new risk!

  • Janet

    I’m in somewhat of a similar situation so I really appreciated your article! It seems your relationship was already established so yeah, it seems like a no brainer. For me, I took a risk in that I’m now visiting/living with a guy I’m just in the beginning stages of ‘whatever’ and we’re not labeling it at this point. it’s a huge leap of faith to me. my lifestyle is nomadic, so it seemed like a no brainer for me to get to explore a new country and continent i’ve never been to before while having a safety net.. and if things don’t work, I can always travel on to the next place. i do want to ‘settle down’ and find a place to call homebase for awhile though… perpetual travel doesn’t suit me for the longterm, so i’m basically scouting out Berlin to see if I could actually live there… and I find myself feeling like I totally can! I even have a life here already and friends (also nomadic/location independent/work from anywhere) I’m regularly hanging out with and co-working. The visa process is daunting and scares me. That’s the biggest hurdle.. But it seems like people are telling me language visa is the easiest way and I want to learn the language anyway… eventually, I want to get the freelancer or artist visa but I don’t feel my business is ‘ready’… and all that scares me (living in the western world because I was bootstrapping for years in SE Asia and still don’t feel ‘ready’ to live in the Western world financially). So yeah I can definitely relate to your article! I’m still deciding if I want to do the visa process now, or just visit first for the 90days I’m allowed and come back… But doing the visa process sooner than later can’t hurt! Depends on how things go with dude I guess… Thanks for your perspective that it’s possible and not as scary once you do it… I’m also thankful for my US passport and how that will be a hopeful advantage.

  • Live Grow Enjoy

    When it comes to taking risks and accepting challenges I always think of Bronnie Ware and what she has written about the top 5 regrets of the dying.

    The top regret being:” I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

    A good question to ask yourself: Will I regret not taking this chance when I look back on my life from the end of it.

  • halfabrain

    I agree. I read this thinking, what was the risk?

  • Danielle Dinh

    I like! I’m always so worried that I’ll make the wrong decision so I end up not doing anything. This is a good way of nudging myself to live life actively.