Take The Risk Or Suffer The Regret

Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.

All of her life, my aunt kept saying she’d love to go to Norway. She’d like to see the old country, and she wanted to visit her distant relatives.

Unfortunately, she never went anywhere — even though she had plenty of money and plenty of time. As soon as she expressed her wish, fear would get in the way. She worried about the furnace going out and the kind of people that would be on the plane. She wondered who would pick up her mail and who would do her work at the hardware store. She was stuck in her comfort zone.

Do you know people like that? They’ve always got an excuse. And they’ve always got a reason for not taking a risk. They just stay in their little comfort zones.

These people pay a very high price for their behavior. In fact, their inflated need for security and their desperate clinging to the status quo costs them a lot.

One of those costs is lowered self-esteem. It’s almost impossible to have great self-respect and live in fear of taking a risk.

Another cost is rust out. If you know something doesn’t work, and you don’t do anything about it, you rust out. You lose your spirit.

It’s the person who says, “I can’t stand my job, but I’ve just got 11 more years, 3 months, and 2 days, and I’m out of here. I’ll stick it out until it kills me.” And sometimes it does. If that person won’t take the risk of going to another job or changing his attitude, he’ll rust out. He’ll lose his spirit.

Other people pay a physical price when they refuse to leave their comfort zones. Many of my clients report that the average life expectancy of their retirees is 12 to 18 months — if they don’t have new risks and challenges to pursue. Dr. Carl Simonton found that those people most likely to die of cancer are those who are closed to change and risk.

Quite simply, there’s not much life in the comfort zone. Excitement and growth are reserved for those who step outside their comfort zones.

Aetna found that out. They interviewed hundreds of senior citizens and kept hearing the same refrain. When these older folks reflected on their lives, they said they felt the happiest in life when they were taking a risk or going for it. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

The same is true in business. Look at the great success stories in corporate America. Most millionaires went through 3 or 4 significant business failures before they made their money. They took risks, suffered some setbacks, learned some lessons, applied their learnings, took smarter risks, and eventually became wealthy. In fact, that’s what Tom Watson, the founder of IBM, advised. When asked for the best advice he could give anyone, he said, “Double your failure rate.” In other words, take more risks, fail a bit, and learn a lot.

Let me make it very clear. There is simply no way you can grow without taking risks. If you want to make real gains, earn respect, experience love, or have fun, you must take some risks. Risk taking is central to everything worthwhile in life.

And I can tell you this. If you take more risks, you’ll get two major benefits: more freedom and more self-esteem. When you successfully execute a risk, you realize that you are able to do more than you once thought. You are less restricted and more free. But even if you fail, you respect yourself for having the courage to try.

So if you’re ready to take more risks, here’s what you do.

=> First let go of your passion for certainty. As John Gardner says, “One of the reasons mature people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.” Most people want to be absolutely certain that everything will be okay — before they risk. But there are no such guarantees in life; so most people are stuck with old behavior and old results.

Florence Barker let go of her need for certainty. At 82 years of age she attended my program on “Mastering Change: Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone, Taking Risks, and Getting Results.” She listed the risks she would like to take as a result of the program, such things as a hot air balloon ride, hang gliding, an African cruise, and driving a semi-truck across the country. Some people were skeptical, but Florence went on to do all those things — and she kept me updated with occasional letters. I couldn’t help but love and respect her, and I couldn’t help but think she was a woman who understood life and was living it to the fullest.

=> Second, you need to realize that every risk is “part danger” and “part opportunity.” Not all risks are worth taking. Some risks are just plain stupid while others just won’t work. Intelligent risk taking comes from knowing which is in greater supply — danger or opportunity.

Saying what you really think at a team meeting is sometimes dangerous, but it can be an opportunity to open up some serious problem solving. Disagreeing with your spouse can be dangerous, but it can be an opportunity to get your needs met. Trying something you’ve never done before could be dangerous, but you may discover talents you never knew you had.

So how do you know if there’s more danger or more opportunity?

=> That’s my third point. Try the 3-question method. Ask yourself these three questions. If all your answers are “yes,” I’d say, “Go for it.”

Start by asking if a threat exists. In other words, “Is something or someone getting in the way of your happiness or success?” You may have a coworker who is threatening the success of your company because of the poor customer service she offers. Or you may have a relative that is constantly putting you down. They’re getting in the way of your happiness and success.

If you can say “yes, a threat exists,” ask if it’s worth a fight. Certainly, some things are worth fighting for, such as better customer service or healthier relationships. You may have to confront that troublesome employee who gives poor service. His service may be threatening the future of your organization. You may have to teach him how to give superior service — in all ways at all times. And you may have to take the risk of confronting that demeaning relative.

Finally, if you think the issue is worth a fight, ask yourself if you can make a difference. If all your experience tells you there is no way you could influence that coworker, then don’t take the risk. On the other hand, if you think there’s a chance of bringing about improvement, if you think it just might work, go ahead. Take the risk. Talk to that coworker or relative.

=> To further test the intelligence of your risk, use the pro and con approach. Take a piece of paper. Draw a line down the middle. At the top of the left column write the word “Gains” and record all the things you stand to gain if you take the risk. Whether it be extra money, more free time, greater prestige, better relationships, or a host of other possibilities, write down everything. Then assign a “1” to “10” rating to each of the gains you listed. A “1” would be given to a relatively insignificant gain while a “10” would be a major bonus.

Do the same thing for the right column. At the top record the word “Loss” and then write down all the things you could lose if you took the risk. Assign a “1” to “10” rating for each loss.

Add up the totals for both columns. If the “Gain” score is much larger than the “Loss” score, it’s probably an intelligent risk. If not, be careful. You could be risking a lot for a little — which is almost always a mistake.

It all comes down to one choice — risk or regret. You either take the intelligent risk — or wish you had. You take the risk or suffer the regret.

Action:  Write down a risk you’re considering. Ask yourself three questions: 1) Does a threat exist? 2) Is it worth a fight? 3) If I fight, can I make a difference? If you get 3 “yes’s,” you’re “possible risk” has moved into the category of being a “possibly intelligent risk.”