The Odds Are Better Than You Think

If you have to know it before you do it, you will only do those things you’ve already done.

Last week I reported on the research that was done on people 65 years of age and older. I said there were three major themes that emerged from the research. There were three key lessons these people had learned, lessons that should be heeded by all of us.

The first one was PLAN YOUR LIFE. A great life, a successful life isn’t a matter of chance. It is the result of planning.

This week I want to tell you about the second thing the older folks said. To live a full, successful life, they said you must TAKE A RISK. Those who were happy in their later years had taken some risks and were still doing so. Those who had played it safe were typically unhappy and wish they would have gone for it.

I’ll never forget one person who decided to take a risk. His name was Paul.

When Paul was born, he was badly deformed. His arms and legs were so badly twisted into knots that he never learned to walk or care for himself. At age eight, Paul heard the doctors tell his parents he wouldn’t live that long, so there was no sense in “wasting” any time or money on him. His parents were told it would be best to put him in an institution.

So that’s where Paul lived–until he was 68. It was then that Paul decided he had had enough. He wanted to live, not just exist. He started to plan out his life, and he decided to go for it.

That’s when I met Paul. He showed up in one of my classes at the university where I was teaching. Paul said he wanted to get a college degree, then a master’s degree, and go into the counseling profession. He wanted to help other people.

I couldn’t help but admire him. Paul had so little. He hardly had any money, no family members, and only a few years of life. All he had was the person he hired to push him from class to class, care for his physical needs, and write out the papers he dictated. But he had a plan, and he was taking the risks to make his plan come true.

I continued to follow Paul’s progress. He took several classes from me at the university, so we had many chances to talk. In fact, he joined me and my family for several Christmas celebrations. I watched him as he started a Toastmasters Club on campus, and I watched him as he got elected to a seat on the student senate.

What about you? Are you heeding the advice of our wise elders? Are you taking enough risks? When the researchers asked the 60 to 90 year olds what they would do differently if they could live their lives over, they said they would take more risks in life.

It makes sense. When you think about the high points in your life, when you think about the times you were really growing, when you think about the times you felt the most alive, you were probably taking a risk of some sort.

Perhaps you were giving your all as you dated that special girl or boy. You risked rejection, but you were also excited and turned on.

Perhaps you discovered a better way to do your job. You risked someone saying, “But we’ve always done it this way.” Nonetheless, you felt proud of yourself and your ingenuity.

If you’re not taking enough risks, if you’re too cautious, just tell yourself, “THE NEXT FIVE YEARS WILL GO BY ANYWAY.” It’ll give you the get-up-and-go to get up and do it.

Jo Coudert learned that. She told her painting instructor that she might go to art school in the fall. He replied, “The next five years will go by anyway.”

She thought to herself, “What’s that supposed to mean?” Then she got a little peeved. She expected a lot more encouragement from her instructor.

Then it dawned on her. The next five years were going to go by anyway–whether she went to school or not. At the end of those five years, she could look back and say, “Well I went to art school, and now I’m years ahead of where I was then.” Or she could say, “Because I didn’t go to art school, I’m not any better at painting than I was five years ago. All I am is five years older.”

I shared that story in a program where I was speaking a while ago. One man in the audience, a financial planner, said, “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, but heavens, I’m already 36 years of age. And it would take 4 years just to finish medical school.” And by then, I’d be 40 years of age.”

One of his colleagues gave the perfect response. He said, “Well you’ve got to decide. In four years, you can be 40 and a doctor, or you can be just plain 40.”

Well you and I also have choices. We can choose to TAKE A RISK or play it safe. The wisdom of the ages comes down on the side of taking a risk. As Leider and Harding say in their book, Taking Charge, “The idea that one can continue growth while leading an orderly, predictable, and risk-free life is the grandest form of self-delusion.”

Action:  This week’s action is easy. Complete this sentence: “Throwing all caution to the wind, what I would really like to do is…” Write out ten answers and get to work on one of them.