I’ll never forget the day I assembled a brand new basketball hoop for our son Michael on his fifth birthday. He was already a good dribbler and I knew he’d love shooting baskets even more. To my chagrin he responded with, “I don’t want to! Let’s go ride bikes!”
I offered to ride bikes after we shot baskets, but he wanted no part of it. I wouldn’t budge either. Finally, after about ten minutes, he relented (or, at least I thought). When I gave him the ball, he just stood there refusing to shoot despite my repeated words of encouragement. Finally, it occurred to me to ask him why. His answer?
“I might miss.”
Eventually, Michael gave in, and predictably, he missed his first three attempts (giving me the evil “I told you so” stare each time). But, once he made the fourth shot, he was hooked! That was the start of a half hour of shooting and, come to think of it, we never got around to riding bikes that day.
There’s a lesson in this story for all of us: Be willing to take risks.
In the decisions young people need to make at this stage of their lives, on the brink of adulthood, the risks can seem a lot higher than in a backyard basketball game. However, so are the stakes! That’s why it’s important they learn to overcome their fears and hesitation.
Years later, I had a similar experience with Michael, only this time it involved his college admissions process. He was hoping to attend a small private university in California with a great reputation and a major in film. After combing all of the websites and books, he narrowed his search to four candidates. There was one other university fitting the criteria that he excluded from consideration. His logic? It would be a wasted effort because his GPA and SAT scores were a little light. Hmm.
I kept encouraging him to consider this school but each time Michael gave the same reason—“I have no chance.” Finally, I offered to take him there on a visit, just to check it out (and escape the Seattle rain!).
During his visit, Michael met a professor in the film and broadcasting department (his intended major) for an hour. She was so impressed by Michael that she wrote a letter of recommendation to the admissions department the next day! Five months later, he received an acceptance letter that began with “Congratulations.” Pure joy!
This story had a happy ending because Michael was willing to overcome his fear of failure to achieve a goal. It paid off—and now he’s a confident risk taker.
In life, some people thrive on risk-taking while others are risk averse. I marvel at astronauts, missionaries, combat soldiers, and mountain climbers for their courage. These people risk their lives or their livelihoods because they put potential reward ahead of the risks. Others prefer to play it safe. Sadly, the end result of the latter is missing out on many of life’s exciting adventures and opportunities, or failing to discover latent skills and talents. How disappointing to live with these kinds of regrets!
If you’re risk averse, muster the courage to try new experiences and challenges, even if you might fail or look like a klutz in the process. Cut yourself some slack and give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Not only will it spice up your life, but you might also find some hidden talents and interests that you never knew you had.
Do you consider yourself willing to take risks? If not, why not? How differently would you approach taking risks if you didn’t care so much about the outcome? How can you encourage a young person in your life to step out in more confidence to try something new, adventurous, or courageous?