Audio: Take the Risk [Time – 16:50, File Size – 15.8 MB]
This post is all about getting outside your comfort zone. It’s about encouraging you to run with open arms to embrace that somewhat scary opportunity that you see in front of you. If you can imagine it… if you can see it clearly… if it gets you excited as a possibility, then it may be your destiny to make it a reality. As Ralph Waldo Emerson says: “There’s nothing capricious in nature, and the implanting of a desire indicates that its gratification is in the constitution of the creature that feels it.” In other words, the very fact that you can imagine a new path or a new invention or a new way of being indicates that it is part of your larger life’s purpose to manifest it.
“Our desires presage the capacities within us; they are harbingers of what we shall be able to accomplish. What we can do and want to do is projected in our imagination, quite outside ourselves, and into the future. We are attracted to what is already ours in secret. Thus passionate anticipation transforms what is indeed possible into dreamt-for reality.” – from The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson
The point: If you are imagining it and you feel excitement (and possibly a little fear) about making it real, then you should probably take the risk and go for it! As Emerson says: “God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.” Similar words of encouragement are captured by Joseph Campbell in his book, A Joseph Campbell Companion. Campbell tell us:
“A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation: ‘As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It’s not as wide as you think.’”
What’s more, as anyone who’s leaped across chasms will tell you, the more leaps you make, the more fearless and confident you will become. Soon, the chasms will seem narrower and you’ll look forward to the opportunity to jump!
Three Good Reasons to Take That Risk
Now, from the perspective of several decades as a working professional, I can see at least three good reasons to take that risk and to make a few mistakes along the way.
Reason 1. You’ll grow.
As Henry C. Link tells us: “While one person hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.” Then there’s this from Joseph Campbell: “The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.” And finally, Tony Robbins says: “Success is the result of good judgment, good judgment is a result of experience, experience is often the result of bad judgment.” (From Brian Johnson’s PhilosophersNotes website.) So make your mistakes, shed that old skin, and make a few bad judgments. Without these, you simply can’t grow!
Reason 2. You’ll create something new or amazing.
Most new or amazing creations are the result of someone taking the risk to pursue them. As Brian Johnson tells us in his PhilosophersNote on Psycho-Cybernetics: “It took Edison 10,000 ‘failures’ to figure out the light bulb. [Edison] said: ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’” And recently researchers at a US Navy laboratory have unveiled what they say is significant evidence of cold fusion, a potentially cheap, limitless and environmentally-clean source of energy. What’s more, it appears that some of the same scientists who have been laughed at for decades and risked their careers by pursuing cold fusion as an impossible dream may have been responsible, in part, for these recent breakthroughs. And who knows? Someday soon, we could all benefit from their risky leap across the chasm!
Reason 3. You’ll become inspired, connect with your Source, your God, or the universe, and acquire new energy.
There’s something about accepting the challenge of a dream that seems to open a channel to the divine within us. When we say “Yes” to stepping outside our comfort zone and pursuing a great dream, energy from Source or God or the universe seems to flow in to support us and keep us working. As Paulo Coelho says in his novel Veronika Decides to Die: “Live. If you live, God will live with you. If you refuse to run his risks, he’ll retreat to that distant heaven and be merely a subject for philosophical speculation. Everyone knows this, but no one takes the first step, perhaps for fear of being called insane.”
So take the risk, become more inspired, and surf on the wave of Source energy that follows. And remember this from William James: “Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second. Give your dreams all you’ve got and you’ll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you.” (From Brian Johnson’s PhilosophersNotes website.) The object of the game: Take the risk, give it all you’ve got, and watch the universe conspire with you to help you achieve your dreams!
Two Personal Examples of Risk Taking
I know from personal experience that taking a risk and going after a scary, almost unimaginable possibility can be transformative. There are at least two situations in which accepting the risk has led me to a whole new dimension in my professional life.
The first situation, and absolutely the most frightening, was when I walked away from a steady paycheck to become an independent consultant. Here’s the story. I had a whopping four years of experience in the business world working for a consulting firm, most of which was spent having an aggressive sales team sell the services of us instructional development consultants to clients such as IBM, Xerox, Honeywell, and other major corporations. It was exciting work and I loved it and learned a lot. Trouble was, a major publishing house (filled with editors and book sales people) acquired this consulting firm and promptly began messing with its business model, driving most of us crazy by challenging our professional standards and practices. As you might imagine, people were jumping ship left and right, leaving to establish their own independent consulting practices. They generally made lots more money, worked their own hours, and had the thrill of charting their own course in the world. I really envied them and was tempted to follow their lead! However, most of these folks were single and were traveling through life fairly unencumbered. In contrast, I had a wife, two school-aged kids and a two-year-old mortgage on our first-ever home in sunny, but expensive, Southern California. If I went independent, I’d lose that steady paycheck. And if I couldn’t find enough contracts, I could lose the house and the ability to support my family. Talk about risk!
Fortunately, my wife really believed in me. She encouraged me, told me she’d use her financial and math training to handle the fiscal side of things, and generally pushed me to jump across that chasm to our own independent business. As I sit here writing this, I look up on the wall and see a copy of my Declaration of Professional Independence (framed and dated) presented to her on her birthday shortly after we began talking about this dream. Over the next decade, we built a network of sub-contractors and media producers and worked with major corporate clients to develop award-winning, custom training programs. We paid off our house and were able to become much more financially secure than had I stayed with the consulting firm. What’s more, with the experience I gained managing projects and teams, I eventually began to move into writing books about project management and teaching PM workshops. In short, taking what appeared to be a huge risk and following my dream, I completely transformed my professional life, as well as the quality of life for my family.
My second example of professional risk taking is this Inspired Project Teams blog and podcast. My career has so far been all about achieving observable results in the human performance arena. I belonged to a profession that actually refers to itself as HPT people (Human Performance Technologists) and whose members carefully design instructional experiences so that people can acquire observable, measureable skills. I have a solid, decades-long track record helping clients achieve results through systematic HPT and instructional design practices and through my skill-based project management workshops. Then along came Brian Johnson and his PhilosophersNotes.
In the past year or so, listening daily during my workouts, I have been exposed to hundreds of Brian’s “big ideas” that began to work their way into my consciousness. The result: I became filled with a passion to share with the world all the ways that these big ideas could inspire project teams and project managers to achieve their best. Now these days my former HPT, performance-measuring self is watching me work on all these “inspirational” posts and podcasts and is shaking his head in wonder, a little dismayed. The question my former self keeps asking me these days is: “So how do you measure inspiration? How can you know this stuff will do anyone any good!” Truth is, I have no answer to this. I just know that somewhere deep inside there is a voice pushing me and assuring me that this is important work. And, in a tip of the hat to my HPT colleagues, I have been carefully providing Challenges with each post that gently encourage you, dear reader, to apply (put into practice) these inspirational ideas in your workplace or in your life.
So it’s quite possible that this blog could lead to people acquiring solid new (even measurable!?) skills. In any event, I realize that my focus on something as intangible as “inspiration” runs the risk that I will be regarded as working with fluffy, “new age” ideas. And this ultimately means I could be risking my hard-won reputation in the HPT world! Well then… so be it! I have made the leap and I eagerly await whatever is on the other side of this chasm!
So… What If You Make a Mistake?
Repeatedly as I’ve studied this topic of risk, I hear this message: Don’t panic if you screw up! Just accept it and move on. In Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Technique for Using Your Subconscious Power, Maxwell Maltz says: “The great Babe Ruth, who holds the record for the most home runs, also holds the record for the most strike-outs. It is in the nature of things that we progress by acting, making mistakes, and correcting course.”
Then there’s this from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, Self-Reliance: “The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency.” So you need not panic when you are in one of those seemingly off-course zigs or zags! Just step back, look at the big picture and you’re likely to see that, overall, you are moving toward your destination.
So take the risk. Leap across the chasm. Screw up and learn and correct your course and leap again! It’s all part of your journey.
Reflect on these questions:
- Is our project team overly cautious?
- When’s the last time we laughed nervously as co-consipirators or got a little apprehensive about a potentially strange or unlikely solution to a problem?
- When’s the last time we got really excited about an completely innovative solution to a problem?
- What might we do to be more creative… to take a few more risks?
Team Challenges Ask your team:
- If there were no consequences whatsoever, and you could do anything or try anything, what would you do or try?
- Are the consequences that you imagine real?
- How might you mitigate these consequences? Or eliminate them entirely?
- Is there really anything stopping you from taking a chance on this? How could you challenge that which is stopping you?
- Could you try a prototype or test of your idea to see if it’s really all that risky?
Project Manager Challenges
- Practice true brainstorming with your team… no judgments, no criticisms, just free-wheeling, outside-the-box thinking and “making stuff up.” Gently encourage risk taking.
- In casual conversations, when team members come up with “off the wall” ideas, withhold judgment. Pause, think about the ideas, let them “marinate.” Encourage them, keep thinking about the ideas, and (really!) return to them later.
- Synthesize! Try listing the as many features as you can of the wild or seemingly risky solutions. Then, bang this list of features up against the more “practical” solutions and keep the best features of both the risky and the practical solutions.
- Go to PhilosophersNotesand get the full notes and MP3s on:
- Ralph Waldo Emerson’s The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance: The Classic Essay on Trusting Yourself
- A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living
- Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Technique for Using Your Subconscious Power
- Paulo Coelho: A Look at Some of My Favorite Big Ideas
- Notes on Tony Robbins