The other day I overheard a woman make the statement, “I risked it all”. It caught my attention and my imagination. What did this person, shopping in the same grocery store as me, looking at the same containers of yogurt, do to risk it all? Had she walked away from a life of leisure to move to Timbuktu to find herself? Had she put all her life savings into her big idea? Did she put her physical safety on the line to complete a grueling challenge? She walked away having selected her yogurt, continuing her phone conversation and I never got the answer.
I do know that my immediate gut reaction was that nothing I had ever done made me worthy to stake that claim. I had visions of huge acts of courage, strength and sacrifice that are not in my experience wheelhouse. But luckily, as I checked out the soup aisle, I cut myself some slack. Perhaps my expectation of what constitutes risk is a bit too high and my assessment of my own risk taking is a bit too low. It seems to me that risk is a very personal thing, what seems like no big deal to one person can be incredibly risky to another. For me, a dance competition feels like a huge risk, others are in their sweet spot on the dance floor. Put me in front of 200 people to speak and it’s no problem; yet for others it is the riskiest thing they can imagine doing.
I believe that our unique experiences, fears and insecurities shape our personal definition of risk. There is no definitive definition of personal risk. For that reason we shouldn’t judge what we or others deem risky. More importantly, I think it’s important to give ourselves and others credit for the risks we do take. When we step outside our comfort zone and open ourselves up to loss, judgment, and rejection, well that deserves credit in my book. Often times, we confuse risk with recklessness and through that lens, risk avoidance seems prudent. But I believe that in life we should embrace risk not avoid it. Life is about expanding and growing and in order to do that, we need to risk what we know to discover what can be. So next time you get your chance to take on some risky business, be willing to take it on…and when you do, give yourself a hug.