On Risk

I’ve been silent this month.  It hasn’t been an unhappy silence, more of a thinky one.

I’ve been thinking about these two contradictory things that I believe.  One is that it’s important to be prudent with resources.  That decisions need to be made with wisdom and care.  That self denial is imperative to personal growth, to accomplishing ones goals.  That we should be conservative in our decisions–especially financial ones.

The other is this: nothing in this world gets handed to you.  So if you want something, sometimes you just have to reach for it, even if you’re not sure how things are going to work out yet.  Achieving worthwhile goals almost always requires risk, sometimes big, terrifying risk. 

I have a wise friend who, in trying financial times, is still spending money as needed instead of folding in on herself, because she believes that if she has confidence that things will be okay, they will be.  I also recently read an essay by John Scalzi, about taking risk and reaching for what you want.  I agree with them both.  But I also spent last year with a tight leash on our spending, being as conservative as I could be with our resources, so that our business could continue to grow. 

And so the war of risk vs responsibility wages on in my head.

This is what I believe: successful risk is tempered by wisdom, and appropriate prudence is seasoned with risk.

Over the years, I’ve taken some big risks.  I made writing a priority at the expense of other opportunities that could have made me more employable.  I turned down opportunities for internships and other experiences, because of the quiet voice in the back of my mind, whispering to me that it was more important for me to write.  I saw many, many friends make the opposite choice, putting their writing aside for a more stable lifestyle.  There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as they’re happy.  But for me, the right choice was the risk.

And after the risk, always, came the time for prudence.  I’ve always had to live on a very small budget.  I’ve always had to set aside some things I’d like to do because they would take up too many resources.  There was only room for so much risk in my life.  In order to make that one risk successfully, I had to sacrifice others.

When we started our business, Drew and I took a big risk together.  We didn’t know what was going to happen.  But Drew worked, first part time while he was in school, and then full time when he graduated.  And as the business grew, we tempered that huge risk with conservative choices.  For the first two years we did a lot of saying no.  There were events we didn’t attend because we couldn’t afford the costs.  We watched every penny, because if we didn’t, we’d run out of money and fail.  Our season of risk necessitated a season of conservative choices.   And so we did what we had to do.

These thoughts are arriving because I sense that we are leaving the season of conservative choices and entering another season of risk.  We’ve been talking a lot over the last few weeks about goals and actions, processes and choices.  These next two years are going to be big ones.  There are so many opportunities waiting right in front of us.   So much to do, to get right.  It’s utterly overwhelming.

And yet, I’ve learned some things over the last few years.  I can have the confidence to take the risks, knowing that I can increase our chances of success by following that risk with prudence, with conservative choice.  By being selective about the risks we take.  By moving forward slowly, but deliberately and with faith.

Risk and wisdom.  Confidence and security.

I think the life I want is somewhere in the middle of it all.