How I made myself willing to take risks
Re-defining my ideas of risk and uncertainty
The first thought of treading a creative path came to me with a great deal of fear, doubt and denial.
Being a person who had carefully tread a safe path all my life, it took me a long while to admit to myself that I craved something different now. ‘Surely, there must be some small change I could make that would fix everything’, I thought. ‘Everyone dislikes something about their job’, I heard my father’s voice ringing in my head. But somehow, I couldn’t shake away the thought of leaping — even if it meant free-falling or eventually crashing.
At that point what motivated me most was fear — fear of inaction, fear of putting it off until it’s too late or maybe fear of being inadequate in my current role. While these fears were in focus, they distracted me away from one of my other fears that had controlled me my entire life — fear of failure.
But not for long. Once I decided that I was going to quit my job, it popped almost immediately into my mind. Terrified, I calmed myself with ‘Surely, I can make my current situation work for me. I’ll figure something out’. And so went the cycle on and on for a couple months.
One night while reading some odd reddit thread on career change, I caught this thought-loop that I was trapped within.
I decided to try to leave fear out of the mix and meditate on my situation otherwise, with positive energy. Was I excited — why? What would convince me to take this step? Wouldn’t I be able to easily recover even if all went wrong?
And then I had this thought — ‘Is it really a big risk for me?’
Here’s where everything got interesting. In the next two weeks, I had made my decision. I was rid of the nagging anxiety that had plagued my nights. I felt confident and happy.
It was because I had finally engaged with what risk and uncertainty meant. I was now looking at the bigger picture and had consciously put my risk in perspective. It edged me to balance being grounded with a hint of optimism.
Risk gets all the glory in success stories, but it’s often mistaken for uncertainty. Knowing your odds versus accepting uncertainty are separate things, the knowledge of which can be a guide for when to be cautious and when to be daring in your career and in life in general.
Wait, is risk not equal to confronting the unknown? Let me explain.
Risk is where elements are known and an outcome can be potentially calculated. It affords far more certainty than otherwise and is almost mathematical in nature. In other words, when one is engaging in something risky, it would be objectively possible to define outcomes and also quantify the odds of a particular outcome happening or not.
On the other hand, uncertainty is a function of life. It’s a factor that nobody can account for or fully know. It has no tangible odds and at best can be patched together using loose statistics.
It makes sense then, how lumping risk and uncertainty together can make any challenge seem unsurmountable and invite overwhelm. At any point thinking of the unknowns is bound to leave incorrect assumptions about the nature of risk itself, and incorrect, negative assumptions about yourself in your mind.
“X will happen, which will cause Y, and that would lead to Z.”
Stop being certain about something that it is not possible to be certain about. It limits you from discovering what you had the uncertainty to discover.
Life is full of risk and uncertainty — in action or inaction. You take a risk with every small decision in your life and it shapes the unknowns of your future. The more you choose to take risks that consciously direct your life towards your preferred path, the more your known identity expands. The less you take risks, the more you are confined within your apparent certainties.
Over time I also realised that doing something different, finding career fulfilment, chasing a dream, discovering oneself had all been dubbed as taking a big risk in our culture, whereas most of the uncertainty in these situations is similar to what pervades life in general. We are simply a risk-averse bunch of people. It comes from a well-intentioned and well-justified history. Yet, having an overly-binary view of life (an all-or-nothing dichotomous thought process) is a disservice to your potential. Its best to consider conventional wisdom but not base decisions entirely on it.
So how do you do it?
To ease yourself into taking risks, start small, do your homework and then accept this: you don’t know what will happen but you want to try.
Taking a bigger risk will be different for everyone. In my situation, changing career paths was easier given my strong fall back option. It mitigated the risk I was taking to a large extent.
Mindset is also the powerful thing here. Cultivating the ability to watch baseless thoughts fly off your mental windshield as you move towards your goal, dramatically improves your route visibility, risk-appetite and personal growth. Its true that the world starts, ends and is lived entirely inside your mind. It’s wise to start here.
Risks can be big or small but are always accompanied by uncertainty. Your willingness to break big problems into bite sized challenges that are solvable as they come your way will help you navigate life. Focus on the thing at hand, stay in the present and keep moving towards your north star. This prevents your mind from snowballing challenges to look bigger than they are in reality.
It’s that’s simple: You need to become comfortable with situations in which everything is not figured out.
My career shift actually freed me, emotionally and spiritually. I started listening to who I was. I became aware of my real goals and started aligning my actions with my chosen direction. Looking back, I could never have accounted for this result when I was stuck figuring out uncertainty or ‘what could be’ on paper. The only way out was exactly this.
Every now and then when things get challenging again, I keep reminding myself of my ‘why’. I’m happy that I didn’t wait for opportunities this early in my career. I created my own. And I believe my future will thank me for that.
And I’m not sure it really get easier as you do it more often — even seasoned ‘risk-takers’ feel the discomfort that venturing into the unknown brings with it. Yet, the powerful wisdom they possess is to see certainty for the illusion it is. They don’t title a chapter of their life before they write it. They know how important it is to be well versed with your odds, but they are also prepared to sit with their decisions in all the uncertainty that unfolds afterwards. When anything is possible, how can you not enjoy the beauty of becoming?
Finally, consider this: to fulfil your potential, to discover your real self and live an authentic life, you must take risks. And while security may appear to be in the absence of change, the only genuine security lies in taking risks.
Thank you for reading!
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