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99 tips for a better world (16 of 99): take a risk

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

This is so well-known to us it has become a cliché. How about “gotta be in it to win it” or “life is short”!

We know that leaps of faith are part of a well-lived life and that in order to succeed we must “grab the bull by the horns”. And if at first we don’t succeed “we must try and try again”.

Our favourite stories are about heroes who risk their lives to save the day, and ordinary folks rising to the challenge, pushing themselves right out to the edge of failure and coming out on top.

We speak of being “risk averse” as if it is a moral failing, a weakness that diverts us from finding the best course of action.

We seem to agree that in order for something really extraordinary to happen we need to take risks. Isn’t it funny, then, that we’re not always very good at it?

Tell me honestly, when was the last time you took a heart-shuddering, terrifying risk? I’m not talking about sky-diving. I’m talking about doing something you secretly longed for; that felt like all hell would break loose if it failed?

Risks are terrifying and the outcome is often unpleasant. That’s why it’s a risk. If the odds are high that you’ll succeed it’s not really a risk.

I think it’s hard to take risks because we, as a society, are not very good at letting ourselves and others make mistakes. Think of the last time someone close to you did something that didn’t work out. Moved to New York to find a cool job, but ran out of money and came home; got married to a partner who would otherwise have to leave the country, but got divorced a year later.

In those moments, we jump to point out the flaw in their plan. There will always be someone close by to thoughtfully remind us that they knew all along “it wouldn’t work out” (phew, lucky you were standing by to clear that up for us).

What if that same person went to New York and landed a job? The couple who got married to avoid deportation found their rhythm and stayed together?

Then it becomes a story of why it’s good to take the risk.

No wonder leaps of faith are so popular in stories. We see the ways a risk can lift you up and take you somewhere amazing. Somewhere you couldn’t have gone without first diving off the cliff.

But when the risk is our own we are so much more acutely aware of how it could end badly. And able to so vividly imagine how it will feel to be a FAILURE.

If you’re waiting for the risk that looks exiting and a bit scary but mostly exciting and almost certain to work out well, you will be waiting a very long time.

Don’t wait too long.

“Go to the Limits of Your Longing” by Rainer Maria Rilke
(translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows)

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Book of Hours, I 59

3 thoughts on “99 tips for a better world (16 of 99): take a risk

  1. Pingback: Take a risk | Where is Sarah?

  2. It’s great isn’t it! I’ve never really read much Rilke because it seemed to be totally uncool to do so for a while there. But it’s not hard to see why it’s stood the test of time. Amazing stuff.

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