Mastering your universe, having the freedom to push yourself forward onto new plateaus, following your bliss – all self-perpetuating actions leading to life’s positive breakthroughs and achievements – this is the stuff of great joy. Yet, sometimes reaching a new plateau in life arrives unexpectedly, out of nowhere, mysteriously – no advanced planning whatsoever – and this new plateau may be located on a temporary stopover at an unanticipated lower level of the proverbial mountain top instead of a higher one.
Somewhere on life’s full spectrum between the expected and unexpected sits the notion of risk taking. By readily accepting that many of life’s major changes often happen for no apparent rhyme or reason, we become less risk averse and more prone toward rolling the dice. Believing that security is an illusion and that sometimes no matter how hard you push yourself, nothing extraordinarily life-altering happens – these are traits of a gambler at heart.
What do you have to lose? Go for it, man!
People who are strongly risk-averse dwell in a much different space. The risk-averse will successfully and painstakingly plan and achieve their goals through determined, hard and deep work and sacrifice – no high risk involved. Their breakthroughs in life happen because they rarely take risks – they move along a well-thought-out continuum of higher and higher plateaus, doing what’s necessary, regardless of any inner discomfort that may arise along their pathways.
The risk-averse live in a no-pain, no-gain universe. They may totally ignore the voice posing a risky option that may be more in tune with their inner authenticity. Or they may pursue their inner passions separate from the work they spend most of their time not sleeping, doing. For example, a risk-averse person who is also a talented artist might take on an accountancy job, spending vast amounts of her time deeply involved in something she really does not enjoy for the practical reason of earning survival money. It’s too risky to put all her efforts into a proverbial starving-artist life, which now plays second fiddle to her accountant day job.
Now, think about this. Which would you rather be: a risk-taker or risk-averse? Which path overall would make your life fuller and most consistent with reaching higher plateaus?
If you were to Google “people’s regrets before they die,” or some other similar-meaning phrase like “what do people wish for on their death beds?”, you will more than likely come across Australian writer Bonnie Ware, a former palliative care taker who worked closely with dying people, engaging in conversations with them about any regrets they may have been feeling as they got closer to death. She wrote a very popular article in 2009 that changed her career path to focus more on this topic, headlined “Regrets of the Dying.”
Ware wrote about the five most common regret-oriented themes she discussed with the dying, with the first one being “I wished I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Do they have this wish because they were not risk-takers? Did they not listen to, or not have, that inner voice telling them, for an example, to be an artist and forget about everything else? Did they not pursue their true human capacity?
Finding Your Way
Essentially, the limits of your “human capacity” can be found in your ability and willingness to be a risk-taker in search of your ideal place. But, in addition to having a penchant for taking a dive into the unknown, you must also pursue this journey with some practical common sense, as provided by Clayton M. Christensen, author of How Will You Measure Your Life. He reminds us that it takes time to find our purpose in life, a bit of risk-taking and certain openness and awareness of opportunities that arrive on our doorstep that often are not so easily recognizable.
“Strategy almost always emerges from a combination of deliberate and unanticipated opportunities,” he explains. “What’s important is to get out there and try stuff until you learn where your talents, interests and priorities begin to pay off. When you find out what really works for you, then it is time to flip from an emergent strategy to a deliberate one.” Now that’s risk-taking that’s not extraordinarily risky, but risk-taking nonetheless. An extraordinary risk, as another example, would be quitting your job to spend all your savings on traveling around the world, without worrying to much about where it would all lead.
Getting out there and trying stuff with a risk-taking mindset also requires that you have a certain curious nature in your bones, and it can occur at any time in your life. There are no age requirements. Five years from now, when you will be 25 or 65, you will also be five years older. What do you see? Many of today’s baby boomers, such as myself, for example, look toward taking on a new and totally different “Second Act,” so to speak, when they reach retirement age, if they can afford to. Put simply, you have to be both a risk taker and have a very curious mind in order to find your ideal place, no matter where you are in life.
In Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, Ian Leslie details what it means to have a curious mind. He defines curiosity under two terms: diversive or epistemic. Diversive curiosity is an early beginning phase that he compares to clicking around the web getting stimulated by what we see but never staying long enough on one link to effectively absorb what we are viewing. Epistemic curiosity, on the other hand, is where we take a more serious approach to what we are investigating or simply viewing. “It involves sustained cognitive effort,” which makes “it tougher, but ultimately more rewarding.” Having the traits of epistemic curiosity “enabled humans not just to journey out of Africa,” Leslie writes, “but to put down roots in every corner of the world. Diversive curiosity makes us want to know what lies on the other side of the mountain.”
Stuck or Unstuck, that is the Question
Without curiosity, you will more than likely get stuck in a mundane place for most of your life. And for some people, that’s okay, but only if you are not stuck in complete and utter monotony 24/7. I know many people who are stuck in jobs that are extraordinarily routine, but they avidly exercise their curiosity and joy in pursuits outside of their day-to-day work. Their mundane jobs give them the financial means and security to take on what they truly enjoy and thrive on philosophically, psychologically, socially and spiritually.
What they do during the hours when they are not dealing with the extreme doldrums of their jobs more accurately defines their true essence. Their hobbies and interests outside of their jobs more accurately define who they truly are inside.
I would argue that un-curious people become generally apathetic about everything, or they waste time in mentally and physically destructive pursuits. Meaningless entertainment, exaggerated consumerism and materialism and a broad lack of desire to not examine their lives turns them into automatons who watch a lot of television.
And what about the truly fortunate and authentic people in life who have figured out how to create their work lives in harmony with their true inner interests and desires? These people are passionate about the work they perform each day and don’t find it to be work at all. Everything they do is an extension of who they truly are; they are not tied to any status quo; they are not under any boss’s or company’s control; they do what they want when they want, but they also understand that they have responsibilities to meet, such as paying their bills and obeying laws.
So, they have figured out how to minimize or eliminate the soul-stealing, working-for-a-paycheck syndrome that many of us are forced to live with in order to comfortably survive. They may not be financially successful. The financial aspects of their lives could very well be in a consistently fierce struggle modality, but they may be wealthy instead of rich.
Such people have followed their inner voice regardless of the typically extreme risk that certainly accompanies that voice. Most are hiding in plain sight humbly doing the astonishing good work of the world.
In conclusion on this theme, the question becomes are you risk-averse or a risk-taker?