What risks have you taken recently? What risks have you avoided? And how did you decide?
I wonder how much I have missed in my life when I refused to take risks. I certainly know how much I have gained from the risks I have taken. Even when I failed, maybe especially when I failed, the risk was worth it. My life is more interesting and more full when I push fear and apprehension aside to do the things that intimidate me or, quite frankly, scare the hell out of me.
The first time I gave a speech I was 14 years old. I was so nervous I could not eat or sleep. I really wanted to give the speech, but I was afraid of sounding trite and uninformed. I was worried that I would bore the audience and they would not get my humour, possibly laughing at me instead of with me. I could have let those fears stop me before I got started but I sucked it up and walked to the podium. Once I began speaking I got a grip on my nerves and something kind of wonderful happened. I relaxed and had a really good time. People listened and laughed and responded. Then when I was done they applauded – for me! Many of them spoke to me in person to say how much they enjoyed my speech. I swooned with happiness.
I went home elated. It was the best thing that had ever happened to me – in my 14 short years. But more important than having my ego stroked was the confidence I gained by taking the risk to try something new and intimidating. Speaking platforms have ever since been a place I feel most myself, and certainly the most alive.
The day I quit my job last year was preceded by stress-filled days and sleepless nights. Was it the right time? The right thing? Would I regret it? My husband had to talk me down from the ledge of doubt and tragic endings a number of times. But when the moment came to deliver my letter of resignation I felt strong and liberated. I took my life into my own hands and made good on a decision to alter my career path. I walked away exhilarated. I was ready to do “my thing” on my terms.
But don’t be fooled by my vigor, there are still days that I climb back up on the proverbial ledge ready to jump and surrender to my old life. Being on my own can be damn hard and lonely and seemingly vacuous at times. How many blog posts have I written and sent out into the world wondering whether they land or repel or simply die a silent death? How many chapters have I written in my book only to sit and stare at them wondering if they are crap? How many poems have I composed and compiled into files and still think I am not good enough? A lot! – is the answer to each of these questions. A whole lot.
But then, there is this. I am writing my way forward into a future I envision but has yet to reside. I believe in it, I see it, but I am having to trust that every single word that I write is a step towards it. Every day, I do this thing where I sit with my journal and my coffee at 7:30 am and I begin to move the pen across the page in search of words that will release me from my prison of doubt. I write for an hour, long past the last sip of coffee, until I have accomplished the morning “brain dump” on the page. And then the real work of writing begins, unencumbered by the bulging nonsense that had been at the forefront before I put pen to paper.
Plus, here is the golden ticket. I really love the writing, in and of itself. I get to enjoy my sweet, guilty pleasure while the world outside hastens to work. My work is what I write and truthfully it is not work at all. It is my raison d’etre.
Big Life Risks
When I moved back to Vancouver in 2011 there were a string of risks attached to my bold life change. Not the least of which, was whether or not my kids would like it here. I had a new job with significant responsibility and accountability. I had to create a new home, make new friends, find new doctors, dentists, hair stylists, and every other service. I had to adjust to life in Canada after living in the US for 15 years. (Cell phone plans were ridiculous, for instance. And why was there no wine in the grocery store?) Plus it was November! It was dark and cold and raining constantly. What the hell had I done? Had I really left the hot, arid Arizona desert for umbrellas and boots? What kind of crazy was that?
My son eventually chose to return to the US to finish high school. I tried not to feel like a failure as a mother and made the best of that for his sake. My daughter and I lived in downtown Vancouver and on weekends we pretended to be the Gilmore Girls, strolling along the streets while we window-shopped and found great cafes for lattes and chats. I got used to the weather, delighting in coats and scarves and turtlenecks. I enjoyed my work. I made incredible friends. And I established myself as a woman of means with unparalleled confidence compared with anything I had achieved in the past. I became fiercely determined to succeed and did just that.
There was something about waking up in my own life, me-in-charge, that freed me to believe anything is possible. I walked out my door every morning filled with optimism that came not from everything being perfect but from knowing that I have the power to determine how I live. I fell in love with Vancouver, a city of many faces and charms. When she is rainy and grey I can depend on the bounty of colourful umbrellas to make the day beautiful. When she is sunny and warm I can go to English Bay and sit in the sand with the crowds that worship the sunset alongside me. When I take in the view from my vantage point near Granville Island these days I see the city that saved me and raised me from cautious to strong. I am grateful that I took the risk to live here back in 2011 because now this is home. The place where I am loved and live my ever-unfolding life.
I believe living a safe life, avoiding risks so as to keep things constant and dependable, results in lost opportunities. It is when we take risks that we grow and change and become more. Trying is not failing. Trying is inviting the chance to stretch beyond what is comfortable into what is possible. Here in the possible I like being uncomfortable and somewhat disoriented. I am learning and curious, discovering the world from a new vantage point.
The “road not taken” as Robert Frost wrote in his famous poem intrigues me to consider and choose my path, both with risk and what may come. I encourage you to take a few different roads, take some risks, because where they lead will make all the difference.