Risk and Reward

The concept of risk has been a theme at work recently. Calculated gambles are perhaps the most important part of a free-market economy. When they pay off, everyone reaps a benefit. But risks are not limited to the economic sphere. How do you determine which bets -— personal or professional — are the right ones for you?

This has been a struggle for me throughout my life. I am fundamentally a creature of routine. I love my family and part of me would be perfectly happy to continue on indefinitely as I am now. But my life is always richer when I take risks, which is why I have been known to drag myself, screaming internally, into new experiments.

When I was 16, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to study abroad, spending the summer with an aunt to improve my German. All my friends were jealous, and if the roles were reversed, I would have been, too. But as the day of my flight crept closer, I didn’t get excited, I just became more terrified. When people asked how I was feeling, I lied and said I couldn’t wait. But I didn’t want to spend two months away from my friends and family, with relatives I barely knew, speaking a language I had studied for only nine months.

I was right to be worried; that summer was certainly one of the hardest of my life to that point. I learned the true meaning of homesickness. I learned how to forge ahead when my tenuous grasp of the language got me into sticky situations (or, in one case, into a city I’d never visited when I accidentally boarded the wrong train). I learned the difference between a healthy relationship and a dying one. And through it all, the most valuable lesson I learned was how to recognize a good risk. That was a tough summer, but it prepared me to keep venturing far out of my comfort zone.

Taking a risk is not a comfortable step. Even the most attractive risk can feel like taking a swan dive into a tar pit. And sometimes it seems as though each plunge just leads to another, deeper one. Every time I’m presented with a new diving board, my first instinct is to take a step back, rather than forward. But if it’s a good risk, it doesn’t take me long to look over my shoulder at what has already happened, take a deep breath and jump.

We have all made it through birth, through loss, over icy roads, beyond bad decisions and at times, pain so intense we don’t feel human. And we’re still here. Those experiences make us human, and they are born of risks and gambles. So I vow to go as far as I can with a smile, even if I have to force it. What’s the worst that could happen?