Years ago, when I was a college freshman living happily in a comfortable Minnesota life, I stepped into one of the biggest risks I had ever taken. I agreed to join a team of complete strangers, drive around the country for two months, and work at events to connect students with local churches.
My introverted self was terrified. But something about it inspired me.
Before that whirlwind of a summer hit, I walked through the Minneapolis airport alone, except for my guitar and luggage. I wondered if all the big changes in life felt like a movie, accompanied by some grand soundtrack to emphasize the excitement of the moment.
I was taking a risk into a new and very different adventure, far from the people I knew and the places I was familiar with. With nervous energy, I put one foot in front of the other until I stared down the jet bridge, sensing it was not just my next flight, but a portal through which my life would be changed forever.
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It was not easy to leave the familiar behind. Through that summer of travel and new places and new people, I gained perspective I would never have gained otherwise. I watched fireworks over Houston’s skyscrapers, heard the stories of students with big aspirations, learned what it felt like to be a foreigner when I set foot in Canada, and watched endless deserts and mountains of evergreens unfold before me in the great American West.
Escaping the Status Quo
My normal life of school and work and routine was ruined. The risk of venturing into the unfamiliar made me realize that there was more in the world I wanted to experience, and staying comfortable in the status quo was no longer an option. I vowed to travel and explore more, to see and taste more, to do and learn more.
Taking that risk allowed me to learn something. My passion to travel and explore grew far more than I expected it would. That risk gave me confidence to travel more the next summer and the next after that. It gave me the willingness to move across the country for a job in Oregon, where I didn’t know a soul.
Instead of fearing risks, I learned to embrace them.
I entered the risk of romance and got to know a woman who would become my wife. And when I sensed the seasons changing again, I looked and found that the next risk was to go to a place I never thought I’d live, doing something I never thought I’d get to do for a living.
Risks built my life story. Risks are how I got to where I am today.
I’d be willing to bet that you owe some of the greatest things in your life to risks. Because of taking chances on something, you got to where you are.
- If you’re in a relationship, you’re taking a huge risk.
- If you’re pursuing a career, you’ve made some sacrifices and rolled the dice.
- If you’re dreaming about making a bigger impact in the world, you’ll have to take more and more daunting risks.
In short, your life is more about risks than you think.
You Can’t Escape Risk
Humans are creatures of habit who seek the most sustained comfort. However, risks welcome and even seek out disruption in the cycle, while inviting us to escape from the status quo. That is why they are so dangerous; that is why they’re so essential.
The beautiful and terrifying thing about taking risks is that they are inevitable.
To be alive is to take risks. We simply choose which ones we’ll take on and how we’ll handle them.
We can try to use all our energy to avoid conflict, take the easy route, and stay away from anything that seems too dangerous or different. But all the while, risk is a creature lurking in the shadows. It will relentlessly stalk us until we finally face it.
Once we take a risk, we realize the outcome isn’t as frightening or disastrous as we thought it might be. We can gain confidence from the clarity that comes on the other side of taking risks, because we’re forced out of our normal comfort zone and usual perspective to see what we couldn’t before.
Simply in considering risks, we’re able to take the first step in dealing with the issues that often drive our lives.
We don’t need to skirt around, waiting until we have permission from someone to do something. To summarize a popular sentiment from famed poet Henry David Thoreau, go confidently in the direction of your dreams and live the life you’ve imagined.
Risks are waiting for us, ready to take us in the direction of the life we wish we had. But don’t equate taking risks to achieving exactly what you’re hoping for. The very nature of risks is that you may or may not get the desired results, but it is worth the attempt regardless.
When you find yourself in a position to take a risk, abandoning boundaries and entering the unknown, I hope you take it. And in embracing that risk, I hope you find risks take you much further than you could go on your own.
What risks have you made that brought you where you are today? Answer in the comments below.