How many risks have you taken today? Have a look at what you’ve done since waking up this morning and see where you’ve taken risks, mostly without realising at the time. The number of risks is not important. Rather it’s the realisation that risk is entirely unavoidable in the life of a human being that matters.
I’ll use my morning as an example:
1. I drove to work. Driving is probably the most risky thing I do on a daily basis. I put myself in a metal box that then moves at speeds of up to 100 km/h on my daily commute. While I’m driving, I’m listening to music, thinking about the problems I’ll face during my day, considering what to write on my blog, noticing the attractive woman in the car next to me, etc.
I’m pretty casual about the risk of driving. It’s something I’m used to. But it’s one of the few things I do that could actually result in my accidental death.
2. I took a shower. Doesn’t seem particualrly risky. But consider that I woke up late and then rushed through my morning routine so I could get to work as quickly as possible. I neglected to put the bath-mat on the floor (it typically hangs over the side of the bath so as not to get stepped on and dirtied unnecessarily during the rest of the day).
When I got out of the shower, I put wet feet onto a tiled floor. If I’d slipped, there’s a fair probability I would have fallen quite hard and injured myself – potentially to the extent of a broken leg/arm/rib…
3. I drank coffee made by someone else. I don’t generally think of this as a risky activity. But think about it. Although I trust my colleague who makes the tea, nobody really knows what goes on in someone else’s head. If she arbitrarily decided to poison me, I’d be dead.
That may seem like I’m getting a bit paranoid, but I’m not. I’m simply pointing out that there is an actual risk involved here. It’s such a small risk that I don’t feel the need to mitigate it, but for someone who is extremely risk averse, it might seem significant.
4. I’m sitting in a big building with floors above and below me. So many risks. If the builders cut too many corners in erecting this structure, the floor above could fall on me. Or what’s below could buckle under the weight of the floors above.
I don’t know the details of the materials used in the construction of this building. Some of them could be toxic (asbestos seems unlikely but other materials could be considered safe and yet prove not to be). The construction of my environment could kill me.
5. I’ve interacted with people, objects, liquids, gases, etc. Every single interaction I’ve had with anyone or anything today probably means I’ve encountered viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc. that are harmful to humans. I’m protected from them by my immune system. But at any point, I could encounter a harmful little organism that my body can’t deal with.
In that case, I’d become ill, possibly seriously enough to die. Think that’s far-fetched? Tell that to the people who died of Ebola recently in West Africa who had never even heard of it before it killed them.
I’ll stop there. If I felt like it, I’m sure I could find hundreds of risks I’ve taken in the few hours since I woke up. But that’s not necessary.
What’s the point of all this? I’m trying to demonstrate that risk aversion is actually just counter-productive.
If you’re considering doing something and you’re concerned that the risk of failure is too high to justify it, then go through the above exercise. See the inherent risk in everything you do. Realise that risk is not a negative thing. It’s simply there, everywhere, all the time.
Do you want to do something but you’re afraid of the risks?
- Want to write a novel (I do) but scared it might not be good enough to publish?
- Want to go on a crazy overland adventure through Africa (I do) but afraid you might get sick/lost/broke/etc…?
- Want to record some music you’ve written and put it on Youtube for all the world to see (I do) but afraid the world might not like it?
- Want to embark on a creative career that includes writing, playing music, traveling, etc. (I do) but afraid of being broke?
- Want to help poor kids with no opportunities by providing them with books to read (I do) but afraid you might not have the knowledge/skills/contacts/time/resources to make it happen?
When I look at that list of things i want to do and the risks associated with them, the risks seem significant. They’re scary.
But then I consider that just this morning, driving to work, I took a few small gaps to save some time; I drove a bit quicker than I should have in some places; I glanced at my phone while driving with one hand. If any one of those situations had gone badly wrong, I could be writing this from a hospital bed.
So why am I afraid of my novel being rejected by publishers when I’ve barely begun to write it? Why am I afraid of having no money? Why am I afraid to fail? The risks associated with the things I’m not doing don’t seem that big compared to the risks I take as a matter of course in my daily life.
So screw risk aversion. Screw fear. Screw giving up before I’ve even started. I’d rather fail magnificently. Better to be rejected/sick/lost/broke/dead in the pursuit of something than barely alive in the pursuit of nothing.