Benefits of Risky Behavior
We know that it’s good to ‘spice things up’ and try new things and push ourselves to grow. But somehow life happens, and we slip into ruts, and doing what’s easy and familiar without really thinking about it.
In Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman writes that one sign an organization, family or individual is unhealthy is if they are no longer willing to take risks. When we let the fear of losing something (money, comfort, time etc.) stagnate our growth, then we’ve stepped into dangerous territory.
Stagnant. Woof, now there’s a word I never want anyone to use to describe my life.
Here’s the thing: I can’t drop everything and go backpacking across New Zealand right now, and I probably wont be joining an improv troupe anytime soon. So, how can I take some more risks where I am right now? What does taking risks in everyday life look like? Here are some things I thought of:
Taking Relational Risks
When it comes to relationships, making the safe choice of only spending time with the people you already know you get along with (and who are most likely a lot like you) can be super tempting, mainly because it’s comfortable and getting to know someone new isn’t.
When you branch out and start to make efforts to make a new friend, it can be awkward. There’s a chance you could be rejected, and you might have to sacrifice things in your schedule to make hanging out with someone new happen.
What you could miss out on by making the safe choice:
C.S. Lewis writes this about what he lost when one of their friends died:
"In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [Tolkien’s] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald." (The Four Loves)
There could be a part of yourself that only this new person can reveal. You never know whether or not that cool girl with the green purse you started chatting with at the library has the potential to be a lifelong friend unless you get past the weirdness and ask her for her phone number already!
Taking Creative Risks
Choosing to create something that is already in line with well-established trends is the safe choice in most art forms. With creative endeavors, choosing the safe route is appealing because it means what you make will probably be liked by a large percentage of the population (and feels like a better bet financially). One summer I decided to do some art fairs and whipped up a bunch of paintings of colorful roosters and chickens; because I needed some cash, and people like farm fowl, right?
The risky choice creatively is often branching out and trying something new, or combining concepts in a fresh way that isn’t guaranteed to resonate with everyone.
By following the guidelines of what culture has already decided is “cool,” you can miss out on actually creating something that resonates with who you are and what really inspires you. If the sole inspiration for a creative project is what is hip right now, then your passion for it will die along with the trend (just like all of those rooster paintings haunting the back of my closet).
Taking the chance on a new idea or applying old ideas to a fresh context opens up the possibility of adding something to the conversation that wasn’t there before. By playing it safe in what you create, you are limiting your chances of innovation.
Making Risky Day-to-Day Choices
Routines are good. And you know I love habits. But it’s easy to get stuck making safe choices in everyday life without trying something new that might shake things up in a good way.
For me, this happens a lot with food. Life gets busy, and I just stop thinking about what we’re eating, and somehow we end up having PB&J everyday for lunch and frozen pizza for dinner and I just feel blah. Or I’ll stop thinking about our house, and then look around one day and realize everything in our living room is beige.
Making the risky choice in everyday life means trying a new recipe that might be bad or buying high-top sneakers that might look weird or wasting time on a calligraphy class that you don’t enjoy at first. But in the end, isn’t the potential to add a little spark to your ordinary worth the risk?
Getting Risky by Setting Goals
You knew I’d go there. Setting goals is risky. Changing something about ourselves for the better is scary. We risk losing comfort and time; and most terrifying of all, we risk potentially failing, and proving to ourselves we are incapable of change (which is a lie that can feel true sometimes).
If we just keep a goal peacefully sitting on the shelf, we can keep things the way they are and hold on to the idea that “someday” some imaginary version of ourselves will make it happen.
Pushing ourselves off autopilot and into proactivity is hard, and there’s always a reason to procrastinate. But the truth is, life is happening right now and no one else is going to do it for us, so why not make the risky choice?
Photo Credit Bethany Shaw