Leading Ideas: The Gift of Risk

"Do you think the people who were trying to reach the top of Everest were not full of doubts? For a hundred years, people tried and lost their lives. Not even their dead bodies came back. But still, more people tried...risking...knowing that they may never come back. Why? Because it was worth it. Because in the very risk something is born inside you: the center. It is born only in the risk. That's the beauty of risk, the gift of risk." —Paraphrased from Osho (1931-1990), Indian Professor of Philosophy, Spiritual master

Six years ago, while coaching a client, I stumbled upon a very important question. We were talking about the idea of living with "no regrets" when I asked him, "When in your life did you feel most alive?" He reflected for a moment and told me about the summer he overcame his fear of water and learned to sail. When he finished he was grinning ear-to-ear. Subsequently, I have asked hundreds of people the same question and have been struck by the similarity of their answers. In particular I've noticed 3 themes. (1) Nearly everyone describes a scenario in which they pushed themselves out of their comfort zone and took risks. (2) The OUTCOME of taking the risk is rarely the main thrust of the story - it's usually the process of taking them that they remember most fondly. (3) When people finish their story, they've often got a big smile on their face.

Consider This:

The gift of risk-taking doesn't lie in what you achieve by risking - it lies in who you become as a result of the process. Confident. Engaged. Alive. Furthermore, it isn't something you do once in a while - it's an approach to life. Open. Exploratory. Daring. You know it when you let it slip out of your life. You feel stagnant, lethargic, bored. Risks have no shelf life - yesterday's risks are today's ego trip. Today is new. RE-ENGAGE. RE-RISK.

Try This:

1. Ask yourself the same question, "When in your life did you feel most alive?"
2. What were you doing? Why did it feel so good? Which of your core values were you living?
3. It's likely you were taking some risks at the time.
4. If you've haven't felt that alive in a while, what could you do to re-engage, to push past your comfort zone?
5. Remember, the gift of risk lies not in what you achieve, but in who you become by taking them.

Doug Sundheim • Executive Coach, New York City • dms@clarityconsulting.com

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  • Amr El Meleegy

    One should definately take Risks in life to achieve his goals. Nothing comes without Risk. However, what this article fails to mention is that Risks should be calculated and not habhazard. Calculated Risks are Risks that have been thought over and analyzed. Someone could wake up one day and deside to take the Risk and tell his manager what he realy thinks of him... but unless that person thought about this Risk first and had another job lined up he will be sleeping in the streets.

  • Seema Kumar

    Very inspiring post. Really motivates to re-engage, re-risk and to push past the comfort zone.

  • Gary Bourgeault (managersrealm

    It really is the story, the experience, the exhilarance of what happened as a result of taking the risk that is most meaningful.

    The story that we are able to tell; our own legends, tales and stories of a moment, a snapshot of life that has changed us forever!

  • Eileen Hackett

    as a fellow coach - I agree with you Mr. Sundheim! I find when I have asked similiar questions of my clients - that it is rarely the outcome they speak most excitedly about or what makes their eyes light up - it is truly how the experience made them feel and what they think they got out of it- usually confidence and a sense of empowerment. What we could accomplish as individuals, a community, a nation if we could all just do what we so ardently want to do, but don't, because we are afraid.

  • Abdissa

    Risk, is the thing that gives you life to your living. The world and people like me living in it are trying to run a life without risk, which means we lose the meaning of life and with it try and stop all the innovation. Have you ever wondered what it would feel to be in a new country and walk around feeling like a whole new person? But, most people think that this is too big a risk to take. But why not? I completely agree with Doug - we must look at ourselves and our fears.

  • Ashish

    Excellent post - one of the best I have read.

    Inspired by this post, I also blogged my comments here

  • Scott Chreist

    Mr. Sundheim, thank you for bringing this topic back into the minds of all those people out there trying to grow, learn, and live better lives.

    There are many facets to the concept of risk as a developmental process. And certainly one does not need to face near death in order to draw deep meaningful lessons from connecting with courage. In fact, I frequently put the idea out there with my clients that risk with significant challenge can be found in simply looking inward at yourself.

    Do you have the courage to look at who you are? Are you willing to risk investing energy towards listening to yourself and making efforts to implement new behavioral strategies?

    Physical risk taking such as climbing, parachuting, abseiling, etc are tremendous feats and the journey one goes through is no less valuable. And yet, as Mr. Sundheim points out here, the mental journey is where the life changing is frequently greatest.

    Do you have the courage to talk to yourself and listen?