Take Manageable Risks
“Thinking which does not connect with constructive action becomes a disease,” said Henry Ford. That disease is fear.
We all have fears, of course. But the lives of some people are determined by their fear. They dream of becoming something — a singer, an actor, or an entrepreneur — but never take any steps towards it because they fear rejection or failure. They stay in the same town not because of any love for it, or for the people there, but because they are afraid to leave. They want to take up a particular activity — martial arts or dance, for example — but are afraid of being laughed at.
Yet, other people are always trying something new, quit their job when they don’t like it, and move from one place to another.
In facing our fears, we have to distinguish between taking manageable and unmanageable risks and between mindful and mindless risks. Compulsive gamblers lose their money because even when they win they will keep gambling until they lose all of their winnings as well as a lot more. They, of course, convince themselves that they are on a “winning streak” and that the extra bet (or bets) will pay off — until it doesn’t. Betting and losing money that they increasingly cannot afford is an unmanageable and mindless risk. And, often, their lives and relationships fall apart as a result.
Manageable and mindful risks are those that help us move towards a particular aim in life but that, if we fail, will not leave us physically, emotionally, or financially damaged to a degree that will be difficult to recover from. Indeed, we might need to try different things to get where we want to be and, as such, we might need to risk or overcome failure several times even to be on the right track.
Unlike the compulsive gambler, then, we don’t want to risk everything. In fact, in nearly every case, we will need to take smaller steps towards our goal — small but consistent manageable, mindful risks.
If you want to become very physically strong, for example, but haven’t worked out for a decade or more, it will be impossible to begin by lifting three-hundred pound weights (and dangerous to try). Instead, you should begin by getting a trainer and perhaps lifting twenty-pound dumbbells or doing push-ups, squats, planks, and other exercises under their supervision, working up to heavier weights over time.
Similarly, if you want to start your own business, getting a sizeable loan to pay for a work space in a cool area of town, or to buy the most expensive office furniture, new laptop, and supplies is probably going to prove an unmanageable and mindless risk, especially if you have a work space in your home, an old but fully-working laptop, and older but functional office equipment.
There is no shame in starting small or making do with what you’ve got. Early on, Jeff Bazos ran Amazon from his basement and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak ran Apple in a garage.
Often, people want the best equipment because it makes them feel that they are really committed, even if they won’t follow through. Or someone will claim that they can’t start to work on their ambition until everything is in place or until they have the perfect location. Expensive equipment and big plans are often an excuse to do nothing at all.
Big talk often masks inaction. Big promises are often little more than big excuses to not do the necessary work that counts. And perfectionism generally means delay — because the “perfectionist” is too scared to make the necessary decision: it’s done and it’s ready to be shown to the world.
Understand, working towards your goal, you will encounter plenty of setbacks and failures. Equipment will break. Opportunities will fall through. Your work won’t turn out as well as you thought it would. You will make mistakes. You will sometimes feel that you “wasted” an evening, a weekend, or even longer. But you will learn from those experiences. You will improve. And, if you persist, you will be closer to your goal.
Ask yourself right now: are you really dedicated to your goal?
If the answer is “yes,” get crystal clear about what it is and work out the incremental steps you need to take to help you get there. Be consistent, and you’ll be amazed how much you can — and eventually will — achieve.
Results may vary from person to person.