A Risk to Seize


Essay by
Natalie G. Britton


March 2013

The notion of taking a risk often produces the undertone of hesitancy, apprehension, and fear, perhaps resulting in complete avoidance. Many of us, presented with an opportunity of risk, run in the opposite direction, fearing the dangers of the unknown and disregarding the chance for growth. We tend to flee from uncertainty and cling to comfort and convenience. However, these actions reveal the ignorance in perspective toward taking risks:

the dangers of playing it safe … are silent killers. They are stealthy, developing slowly over time and almost impossible to pinpoint. But like a slow leak in a tire, they can be destructive.
Harvey Schachter, in
The Globe and Mail, reviewing
Doug Sundheim's Taking Smart Risks  (2012)

Risks are not opportunities to dread, rather, they must be seized, as they offer priceless growth and advancement for its beholders. It is in being challenged that one feels alive, Sundheim says. Embracing risks requires confronting one's comfort zone, welcomes surpassing growth, and awakens the soul to a new world.

A risk is any situation that exposes the chance to gain or lose something of value:

Risk taking has been described as any behavior that has a significant degree of uncertainty about the losses associated with its outcome. The benefits may serve as a reason why risks are taken; the losses may refer to any possible undesirable consequences.
John P. Robertson and Christine Collinson
"Positive Risk Taking: Whose Risk is it?
An Exploration in Community Outreach Teams in Adult Mental Health and Learning Disability Services"
Health, Risk & Society, April 2011

The effects of taking a constructive risk can range from failure to triumph. One may fail to attain a desired result or succeed in accomplishing what was anticipated. Philosopher Paul Tillich encourages taking such actions:

He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and fails is a failure in his whole being.
Paul Tillich
A History of Christian Thought  (1956)

Regardless of possible fruitless outcomes, something is always gained from one taking a risk. Whether the gain amounts to learning a lesson, conquering nerves, or achieving an expected desire, those who take risks never proceed empty handed. The nature of a risk is one that takes away but can reward graciously in return.

Universally, we as individuals occupy a "comfort zone", which influences decision-making to preserve our level of ease and safety throughout life; but the character of risk, unfailingly, defies the zone. Because the comfort zone usefully protects us from embarrassment and inconvenience, risks are often avoided, as they expose fears that must be challenged. Though this comfort zone protects and frequently persuades the choices of man, it should not be appointed permission to distort perspective. The difference of attitudes between risk takers and those who play it safe is found in the words of the Greek historian and Athenian General Thucydides:

The fact is that one side thinks that the profits to be won outweigh the risks to be incurred, and the other side would rather avoid danger than accept an immediate loss.
Michael Sheehan
The Changing Character of War
The Globalization of World Politics – An Introduction to International Relations  (2008)

Those who shelter too readily within their comfort zone refrain from the unfamiliar and unpredictable and are bound to cower at the sight of risk, believing it will cause more loss than gain.

The torment of precautions often exceed the dangers to be avoided. It is sometimes better to abandon one's self to destiny."
Jules Bertaut
Napoleon In His Own Words  (1906)

It is those of us willing to violate routine and tread outside our comfort zone who bloom into their full potential.

A typical criticism against taking risks concentrates on the fact that all risks challenge a fear; but it is in facing fears that one becomes stronger. Risks reveal a lack of strength and offer its challengers the opportunity to defy weakness. As we stare into the abyss of fear, without backing down, we are no longer subject to the power of that fear. Now, having conquered a fear, we are no longer restrained and have progressed to a higher standing in personal accomplishment. Occasions that allow for the sidelining or disposal of weakness must be seized throughout our journey towards self-actualization, in which we come to realize and fulfill our potential and capability. Without willingness to take risks, we become trapped by fears and will never see what our lives could become. On the other side of fear awaits great success.

Through taking risks, we can achieve great things and advance to new heights, while experiencing the vitality of evolution. Risks propel people from where they are to a life of greater possibilities. A young man will never become a husband, until he takes a risk and proposes; a singer will never play in an opera, until he or she risks an audition. Risks must be weighed and valued. Without them, life begins to diminish: technology becomes stagnate, the poverty line continues to decline, education never progresses, and revival is unattainable. Every improvement and advancement the human race has made in society started with someone taking a risk and trying something new. The world would be without air travel had it not been for the Wright Brothers taking a multitude of prudent, planned risks. A route to the West Coast was discovered, because Lewis and Clark explored uncharted land with boldness and courage. Risks make way for life to be experienced afresh.

Risks should not be bound to a reputation of something to be feared or evaded; rather, they should be encouraged and accepted with great anticipation and expectancy. A life without risk is a life of complacency; it remains one of relaxation and ease, though barren, as it shuns opportunities for growth and flourishing. The meaning of risk ought to be interpreted thoughtfully, as the gains from risk-taking trump the security from avoiding it. It is not even a luxury, but a human necessity; Robertson and Collinson state:

Risk taking is necessary in each aspect of mental health where the primary purpose is that of improving quality of life …

In focusing on what can be gained from a risk rather than what will be lost, fear and hesitation will escape from one's mind and hope's eagerness will take control. In the spirit of Mark Twain, and lately attributed to him, H. Jackson Brown Jr. quotes a saying of his mother's in P. S. I Love You (1990):

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Or, most poetically:

[Sardis (in what is now western Turkey.
 Brutus' tent in his army's camp.]
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
William Shakespeare
Julius Caesar, 4.2.270-276


© 2013 Natalie G. Britton

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