Sunday, April 29, 2007

Taking Risks

There is a theory that some people are born risk takers. They need the adrenaline rush that each risk provides. Sky divers, bungee jumpers, and, some people even say entrepreneurs. Starting a business is loaded with risk. There are no guaranteed paychecks once a week or once a month. There is just a boat load of possibilities, and an endless quantity of work. Starting a business in the world of craft after 9/11 could be considered not just risky, but perhaps suicidal. But here I am.

I don't think of my self as a thrill seeker. There was a brief fling with the idea of sky diving in college which I never pursued. I see myself as someone who takes measured risks. Weighed in my calculations is the risk of inaction. What if I just pass, wait for another day? Part of my decision process comes from a reflection on life, beautifully written by Nadine Stair, at the age of 85. Perhaps you are familiar with it:

"If I had my life to live over again, I'd try to make more mistakes the next time. I would relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I know of very few things I would take seriously. I would be crazier. I would be less hygienic. I would take more chances. I would take more trips. I would climb more mountains, swim more rivers, and watch more sunsets. I would burn more gasoline. I wound eat more ice cream and fewer beans. I would have more actual problems and few imaginary ones.

You see I am one of those people who live prophylactically and sensibly and sanely. Hour after hour. Day by day. Oh, I have had my moments, and if I had it to do over again, I'd have more of them. In fact I'd have nothing else. Just moments, one right after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I have been one of those people who never go anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a gargle, a raincoat, and a parachute. If I had it to do over again, I would go places and do things and travel lighter than I have. If I had my life to live over. I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would play hooky more often. I wouldn't make good grades except by accident. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I'd pick more daisies. If you hold your nose to the grindstone rough and hold it down there long enough you'll soon forget there are such things as brooks that babble and a bird that sings. These things will your world compose: Just you, a stone, and your darned old nose!"

I first read this quote when I was in North Carolina, about 20 years ago, on an Outward Bound trip. I spent just over a week in the woods, backpacking, rock climbing, and white water rafting. All this from a woman who hated gym! Talk about a challenge! But that was the point of it all. The lessons I learned in the woods that week in June have carried with me for all these years. My mantra these days is "one foot in front of the other." The only way anything happens is by putting one foot in front of another.

That may seem like the most obvious statement in the world. But it has more depth to it than that for me. It goes back to that week in the woods. Part of the program was the ropes course. This is a series of cables, logs and ropes in various forms, that are climbed and crossed, up in the trees. We were all scared silly at the prospect of making our way across this course. This is the rational response to being at that height on a log or a cable, even with a safety harness. Balancing the emotional fear with the rational knowledge that we were not going to fall to our untimely death, allowed us to move, slowly and timidly, through that course, and then back to earth again.

As I crossed on a wire cable, with two thin, wobbly cables to hold for some balance, my feet shook so much the cable bounced up and down. But I managed to cross it without falling. As made my way across that cable, the shaking reduced, and my confidence built. It was simply willing one foot at at time to move. The last part of the course, before rappelling down, was a log, at more than 30 feet in the air. It was a balance beam like I had never crossed before. I did not have faith in my ability to cross that log. I could barely keep my balance walking on a curb. I didn't know if I could even take that first step. Yet what choice did I have. There were already people making there way up behind me. Turning back was just as treacherous, and too crowded. My only way out was forward. Taking that first step took more courage and strength than just about any thing else I have ever done. But I did it. And each step after that. Until I walked all the way across that log. Not once slipping or losing my step.

It wasn't just about doing something that was scary. But about the preparation that went into that scary step. Enough precautions had been taken to eliminate nearly all risk. It was just my fear that was left. Fear of failing. Fear of making a fool of myself. Fear that this would be the worst experience of my life. Instead it was one of the most powerful. It was a reminder to check in and see if that first step is possible before I assume it is too risky, too scary. Impossible.

Being in this business. Doing my first wholesale show. Doing any show! These are all risky steps. But what if I waited until the more perfect moment arrived. I could still be standing there, as I was on that log, frozen in fear. I have no idea what the show will be like. But this is true with any show I have done. I know I have done all I can to prepare for this show, and now I just need to enjoy the walk. Enjoy meeting some of my customers in person for the first time. Enjoy meeting other artists I only know from the Internet. And be open to the possibilities that may come from this experience.

I don't think of myself as a risk taker. Rather, I am someone who wants to avoid the regrets. Opportunities that I should have taken but was afraid to reach for. Some will drop, some will be out of my reach. But each time I try I will live a little more and learn a lot more.

Next time you face a big scary goal. Ask yourself, "What is holding me back?" If you know you can manage the real risks, and all that is left is your fear, maybe it is time to try and take one step forward. Lots of little steps can get you across the room. And sometimes that is all it takes.

No comments: