Avoidance of risk is a major cause of personal problems.We hear a lot of talk about depression. What is depression? A lack of energy, motivation or purpose. What kills purpose? Very often, a habitual tendency to avoid risks.
There’s actually much more risk in not taking risks than in taking them, at least most of the time. Most of the things people consider risks are actions that, even if they fail, leave you no worse off than you started.
Maybe there’s someone you wish to ask out on a date. It feels risky to ask the person out. But in the worst case, they will say no, and you’re no worse off than you started. And although the rejection might sting at first, it’s also an opportunity to be more in contact with reality. “I thought that person might be interested and available to date me; I was wrong. That’s disappointing, but at least now I know.”
If you base everything on feelings, then risks seem intolerable. “If I take this risk and it goes badly, I will feel upset and disappointed. That’s intolerable.”
But if you make reality your guide and your friend, rather than your feelings, then there’s little to fear from knowing the truth, even when you don’t always like the truth.
There used to be a saying: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” People also used to say, “No pain, no gain.” I prefer to modify it: “No risk, no gain.” Because it’s true. If you go through life avoiding risks on emotional “principle,” then you will never build or create anything of worth. Eventually you will find this depressing. People talk of depression as if it’s a causeless mystery, when in fact it’s often the accumulation of many refusals to take risks over a long period of time.
When I talk with seriously and chronically depressed people, they often are very responsive to what I’m saying. “You’re right,” they will say. “I avoid risks like the plague. I avoid risks because I don’t want anything bad to happen. But in the process, nothing good ever happens.” Errors are correctable. You can interrupt this hopeless cycle by starting to take risks, and your life will finally have energy and momentum.
There are basically two kinds of risk. One is the kind that leaves you no worse off than you started. Most risks are of this kind. The other is the kind that could seriously undercut your life, or even kill you. It’s not automatically and always true that the second risk should be avoided. But you ought to think carefully before taking the second kind of risk. But with the first kind of risk—the kind that will leave you no worse off than you started—you should usually take the plunge. It’s not only because something good might happen as a result. It’s also because it will desensitize you to the sting of failure, and help you better feel like failures are part of life, as they go with the territory.
For more perspective on what I’m saying, read the biographies of anyone who achieved something. You’ll find that such people almost always took more risks than most people. In the process, they had a greater number of failures. But they also achieved a lot more.
If you avoid risks like the plague, you’re taking a bigger risk than any one risk would ever actually be. Think about it!
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