On my way to work, I would encounter a sharp turn on the road. The turn lured unsuspecting motorists in, and suddenly became too sharp for them to maneuver at those speeds. The most dangerous element was the 3-foot tall concrete divider. Whoever went in too hot needed skill and luck to avoid it. People, including yours truly, were more cautious the second time around. I would keep an eye on the divider and carefully maintain low speeds. All was good.
Now I love riding. So there was one tiny problem. While it’s important to negotiating a turn safely, too much caution makes me feel restricted. One day, I tried something different. I flung the divider out of my mind and kept my eyes on the lane where I wanted to end up after completing the turn. And voila! I negotiated it in a fashion that would make TT riders proud. It’s now fun to sail through the turn (safely) while other motorists struggle. It taught me an important lesson — you can be better at something when you stop playing it safe.
We have been nurtured in a society where safety is the norm. Study hard, get a decent job, work hard, get married, settle down, have kids, work harder, retire and die. Risk takers are glorified, but only as long as they are not one of our own. After all, not all risks pay off. Some can backfire so badly that people lose everything they have. It’s better to play it safe and somehow negotiate your way through life, like motorists do on the turn, right?
You know as well as I do that people who enjoy taking risks, who enjoy challenging themselves, are the ones who really end up succeeding. As Richard Branson sums it up with his favorite phrase — “Screw it. Let’s do it.”
So what powers do you stand to gain when you would rather take risks than play safe?
1. The Power to Say “No”
The main area in life where we play safe is relationships. We want people to like us so badly that we often end up doing things we don’t want to (are you nodding?). We take more on our plate just to avoid hurting people.
When you stop playing it safe, saying “no” to unwanted tasks and people comes easily, without the feeling to guilt which accompanies it. And this skyrockets your productivity.
2. The Power to Look at Challenges Differently
Sachin Tendulkar, the world’s best batsman, looked at the field differently while batting. While most batsmen look at the fielders to avoid them, Tendulkar drew a mental map of the gaps. The result? He scored more than 34,000 international runs — a record that will stand unmatched for a long time.
While batsmen want to avoid the obstacles (fielders), Tendulkar looked at the opportunities (gaps). Similarly, when your appetite for risk increases, you find answers where people see obstacles. This change in mindset sets you on the path to success.
3. The Power to Set New Limits
My instructor wanted me to do 30 pushups with my feet on a medicine ball after 45 minutes of rigorous calisthenics. After 25, I was exhausted, but he egged me on for 5 more. For reasons unknown, after completing 5 pushups, I pushed myself to do 5 more. And I succeeded. The feeling of elation I experienced was terrific. Not to mention that there was a pretty girl watching. Oh, that smile! (Maybe she was the reason why I tried pushing myself in the first place.)
Avoiding risks imposes restrictions on you. But challenging yourself makes you set new limits. Because you keep your eyes on the goal, limiting elements become irrelevant.
4. The Power to Go After What is Important
Xiang Yu, a Chinese General in the 3rd Century BC, took his army into enemy territory. He burned the ships and crushed the cooking pots while they slept. With no retreat option, the army fought fiercely and vindicated Yu’s decision. Yes, this action was extreme! But it gave us insights into human psychology.
Ever wondered why the entrepreneurs who worry about how they will feed their families succeed more often? It’s because of the lack of a contingency plan — Plan B. When you have something to fall back on, you almost certainly will choose to play safe. When you don’t, you push forward with everything for what is important. You conquer your fear. Risking failure teaches us that while fear is real, it can be overcome.
Yes, a backup plan is important. But let the aim of that plan also be to accomplish what your primary plan will. For instance, where most cricket captains have a Plan B in place, MS Dhoni has Plans B, C and D. But all his plans have the the same goal as that of Plan A — to ensure India wins the match.
5. The Power to be Happy
When you are okay with failure, you start doing what you love. When you do what you love, the quality of your work improves. This gives you that feeling of satisfaction that most people yearn for today. This satisfaction not only makes you happy, but also helps you spread happiness among people in the world. And God knows we need that today. Scott Dinsmore said “80 percent people are unhappy with what they do. Imagine what kind of a world this would be if 80 percent people were happy with what they did.”
The only factor holding the 80 percent back is the desire to play it safe. Become part of the 20 percent which does what it wants to, rather than what it has to. And witness the dramatic improvement in the quality of your life.
Sure, there are massive risks outside your comfort zone. But as Margie Warrell says, “that’s where the rewards lay always.” Taking risks guarantees a life where you have many stories to share later. Even if life doesn’t pan out the way you wanted, you can make a killing by writing your stories.
What would you like to regret ten years from now? The experience of having failed at something risky, or being as mediocre as people around you because you never tried?
image source: Flickr