Risk and reward

Aug. 1, 2006
When the fax machine stopped, I saw that my son, Stephen, had sent his thought for the day.

When the fax machine stopped, I saw that my son, Stephen, had sent his thought for the day. It was a quote by Sidney J. Harris, the Chicago columnist, and thought-provoking it was: “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.” Harris’ words speak to the power of the choices we make, and to the disappointment, even heartbreak, that can accompany a missed opportunity.

We frequently stand before open windows of opportunity, so why don’t we leap through them with anticipation of the rewards to come? Too often, we hold back until suddenly the window slams shut and the opportunity is lost. There are good reasons for inaction. We may not see the opportunity clearly enough to fully appreciate its benefits. Sometimes the timing is wrong. But most often, our reluctance to move forward is driven by fear ... the fear of taking a risk.

Risk taking is not about chance. Chance is pulling the handle on a Las Vegas slot machine. Risk taking requires a willingness to make mistakes and the ability to accept the consequences of failure. But it also means understanding the requirements for a positive outcome, anticipating the rewards, and going forward with self-assurance and commitment. Think about the finest times of growth and achievement in your life. Were you not exploring new territory? Were you not outside your comfort zone? No one could give you an unconditional guarantee of success, could they? Risk taking was a necessary part of the process.

Finding courage and determination

To grow, we must do the things that take us beyond what we have already accomplished. This takes courage and determination. Where do these qualities come from? Let’s go back to basics. They result from knowing that what we are doing honors our core values and advances us toward our purpose in life. Courage and determination are strengthened when our actions carry us closer to our vision - that picture of a future that is in some way better than the present. Simply put, we will take a risk when the outcome of our actions is deeply important to us, and when the price of risking is less than the price of living with regret.

To get past our fear of risk, we must listen intently to the messages about life that come our way. This has been an emotional week for Marlyn and me. We traveled to North Bay, Ontario, where the family buried her parents’ ashes. It was a simple, dignified, and meaningful ceremony. Two days later, the Friends of Fairvern in Huntsville, Ontario, honored Marlyn’s mother, Helen, for her outstanding volunteer contributions. This was a celebration and a time to pay tribute. The two events were clearly different, but they contained similar messages. Although life always ends too quickly, our achievements live on. But to achieve, we are often called on to forego the comfortable and the easy. Helen did just that. Her life was not always easy or comfortable, but she stepped through each window of opportunity with courage and determination, making the right choices and taking the risks necessary to improve the lives of others.

Tossing your hat

All of this has me thinking about what is not yet done in my life. Some of the possibilities are exciting. Others make me anxious because they are a stretch and involve taking risks. I look to my mother-in-law for inspiration. I also look to a speech given by President John Kennedy. While talking about the risks and rewards of conquering space, he said, “Frank O’Connor, the Irish writer, tells in one of his books how, as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall, and then they had no choice but to follow them.” I know I have a lot left to do. I will toss my hat over the wall. Care to join me?

Doug Young, MBA, and his spouse Marlyn, MCC, have a professional speaking and executive/team coaching business in Parker, Colo. They co-author this column and share an interest in leading-edge business concepts, achieving personal and professional potential, serving patients, and improving how people work together. Contact them by e-mail at [email protected], by phone at 877-DMYOUNG, or visit their Web site at www.dmyoung.com.

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