Risk Aversion and the Importance of Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone: Part Two

Last week, we talked about risk aversion (especially in millennials and the younger generation) and the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone in all areas of your life. We are continuing that theme this week. (If you missed last week’s blog, you can find it here.)

When we think about our favorite feel-good movies—those with memorable heroes and heroines and happy endings that make our souls feel full—what’s the general plot line that comes to mind? For many of us, they feature protagonists who boldly step out of their comfort zone, defy the status-quo, and take risks with highly uncertain outcomes. We see them believe in themselves enough to try, work their tails off, overcome obstacles of all sorts (including fear), and eventually, win the prize.

We like these kinds of movies because they make us feel empowered and hopeful. But, honestly, how many of us actually live out our day-to-day lives like the heroes and heroines in our favorite movies? Are we willing to push back against the nay-sayers, summon the courage,, and boldly forge ahead, even if we don’t know how things will turn out?

This week, in our second installment in our series on risk aversion, I’d like to share three more benefits to stepping out of your comfort zone and living a fearless, confident life.

  • Successful people go for it. It’s one of the most identifying hallmarks of a true leader. They take each situation as it comes, and make a decision out of confidence rather than fear. Successful people do not fear what others think, nor do they let their insecurities hold them back from pursuing their goals. And, they’re not shy about expressing their views, even if their opinion might be contrary to others.

    (In the same vein, know that it’s perfectly normal to care about or acknowledge what other people think of you. The key is making sure you do not fear their opinion, nor let their opinion determine the way you feel about yourself.)

  • One of the greatest joys in living life—our biggest confidence booster and our biggest source of motivation—is stretching ourselves, trying something new, and being surprised by an amazing outcome. In most cases, whenever you decide to simply “go for it,” you’ll be glad you did.
  • We often try to avoid uncertainty, because, well… it can be uncomfortable. However, life is full of uncertainty, yet true leaders take the time and initiative to solve problems. Understand that life is a learning process, and the process itself sometimes matters more than the outcome! Even if things don’t turn out as hoped, at least you tried AND you gained a learning experience to help you the next time.


Consider making a list of the things you’ve been wanting to do or try but you’ve been hesitant to take the plunge. Do you see any common denominators? What’s the underlying risk aversion or insecurity? Vow to yourself that you will consciously decide to step out of your comfort zone and follow those pursuits. Trying is a sign of self respect!

Many (and I mean MANY) people cite their biggest life regrets as the risks they didn’t take. So, I encourage you today… raise your hand. Be the first to answer the question. Accept that job. Move to that city. Take on that internship. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt and refuse to live your life with regret! Maybe it’s time to take off those training wheels, and give it a go!

Risk Aversion and the Importance of Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone: Part One

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard some conflicting descriptors of Millennials. Some will say how creative, relational, and connected they are. Others will marvel at the emphasis they put on the meaning of their work, and not just the work itself. Millennials ask themselves: Is what I’m doing purposeful? How is it making a difference? What am I passionate about? Great stuff!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, you’ll hear educators, mentors, employers, and other leaders talk about Millennials’ apparent fear of what others think. Many people in this age group do not raise their hand in class, be the first to answer a question, or speak up when they have a differing opinion about something. There seems to be an irrational fear of being ridiculed, getting an answer wrong, or looking dumb. Or, increasingly, saying something that’s not PC!

Related, we hear many stories about how Millennials crave feedback. But, only if it’s positive! Even gently given constructive feedback is difficult for them to take. Generalizations, for sure, but we hear this constantly.

Also, many are struggling to land (and keep) jobs. Fresh out of college, they’re picky and finicky when it comes to finding work. I’ve heard too many stories of young adults choosing to live in their parents’ basements rather than taking a job that’s beneath them or imperfect in other ways.

What it all comes down to is risk aversion. Many young people today are simply unwilling to take risks with uncertain outcomes. Why so? Are they afraid of failing? Afraid of looking silly in front of their friends? Is there such an expectation of perfection in appearance and performance that didn’t used to exist? Is political correctness and hypersensitivity causing them to hesitate?

Elements of risk aversion and fear of failure can be witnessed in all areas of life. Here are some examples:

  • We focus too much on what others might think in our quest for belonging. This doesn’t lead to a good quality of life, as living in other people’s heads will make us anxious, hesitant, hypersensitive, and exhausted.
  • We fear “messing up” our resume. When we’re unemployed, taking a job that may not align with our college major or desired career goals will not look bad on our resume. Having a long gap in employment history WILL. It’s okay to start at the bottom (EVEN WITH A COLLEGE DEGREE) and work your way up. We all did it.
  • We’re insecure. This applies not only to appearance, but also about strengths, weaknesses, personality traits, and more. Those lacking in self confidence often struggle to accept themselves for who they really are. We must learn to love and appreciate ourselves and our uniqueness before we can truly become successful.
  • We let pride get in the way by always needing to be right. People with this mindset generally need high odds of success before they will participate in anything. This is what I call “perfectionist syndrome” and it leads to prideful, resentful, hesitant, and generally unsuccessful outcomes. Not surprisingly, these people tend to struggle in team settings.
  • We may be raised by helicoptering, performance-driven, or abusive parents. These forms of parenting inhibit children from trying new things and thinking for themselves.


As young people embark on life as an adult, the risks may seem extraordinarily high. However, so are the stakes. That’s why they need to learn to overcome their fears, hesitation, and insecurity, and simply go for it.

Next week, we’ll offer some ideas on how to overcome our fears and DO THIS!



Take Risks – Even if You Might Fail

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?