I saw something in the social media a while ago, that said “Give chances: don’t take them.” I propose a different slant on the topic; I replace the word “don’t” with the word “and.” Since I am rather risk averse, the notion of not taking chances has a comforting ring to it. On the flip side, none of us can make progress in life without taking some kind of chances. Finding the right balance between taking calculated and strategic risks versus foolhardy ones is worthy of some analysis.
The trick is to determine the difference between smart risks and dumb ones. We need a system that helps us sort them out. Stop reading for a moment and focus on a personal risk that you have taken in the past year. Think about the process you used to sort through the risk/reward ratio and how you ultimately decided to make the plunge. In retrospect, would you do it again? Do you thank yourself for taking intelligent risks, even if sometimes they do not pan out?
My system is to have a good strategic plan for my life. It covers my professional as well personal life. Every year I renew the plan and refresh what I plan to do for the next year. Having a written plan allows me to turn down some tempting things without feeling guilty for missing something.
For example, this year I made a strategic decision to back off on some teaching to allow more time for product development. That meant sacrificing current income in order to have the potential for a better future. The result is not guaranteed, but the risk vs. reward tradeoff was a good one for me this year. I have also made some heavy investments in my speaking career that are already starting to pay off and are bringing me more speaking engagements on my topics of trust and leadership.
Having a plan helps me know which calculated risks might be the best moves to make. The plan is never perfect, nor do I adhere to it with shackled rigidity. I believe we need to be flexible and alert to possibilities we may not have considered before. Still, operating with a backdrop of a well-considered plan has been quite useful in my life. I recommend the practice to you, and I will send you my detailed system if you request it.
On giving chances, allowing ourselves and others to try things is a formula for enabling growth. We need to feel empowered to take a chance when it is prudent and encourage others to take responsible risks as well. Sometimes we also need to give second chances in order to reap the payoff.
If we are too quick to pull the plug when an attempt at something goes sour, then we limit the learning experiences that come from overcoming failures. I believe we learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes. We need to fail more often and make corrections to maximize the life lessons. It is all about learning.
For example, walking and talking are easy for most people. Recall what it is like for a child to learn to walk or talk. It is simply a series of numerous failures followed by support and more chances that allow the eventual learning to take place. But what if you had a stroke and had to learn these skills all over again? Thankfully, most of us never have to endure that agony. One person who did, and wrote insightfully about it, was Jill Bolte Taylor.
Jill wrote a wonderful book entitled, “My Stroke of Insight.” As a practicing brain surgeon, she suffered a massive stroke that destroyed the left side of her brain. In her book, she described the painful process to regain full control of her functions, with the dedicated help of her amazing mother. She literally had to relearn how to walk and talk while using only the right side of her brain. In the process, she discovered a kind of inner peace that is available to us all if we simply train ourselves to access it. I recommend this book to anyone who struggles with depression. It is not only about getting a second chance, but about the amazing personal skill of modifying our own thought patterns.
Giving second chances to ourselves and others is also an empowering activity. We allow the person to take ownership of the situation and figure out how to do better in the future. With this approach, people can take a creative and uplifting road to improvement rather than dwell in defeat.
In summary, if each of us would concentrate on taking intelligent chances with the right strategy and then extend chances if things go wrong, we would find the world to be happier and more productive.