“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