Why Taking Risks is Critical

I once had the privilege of hearing Peter Vidmark speak. He was a member of the 1984 US Men’s gymnastic team who won the gold medal, and during his presentation, he offered a fascinating perspective on what success looks like, using his experience in competitive gymnastics as the backdrop.

Back in his day, the highest score you could attain in gymnastics was a 10.0. It was very rare, and the judges made it almost impossible on purpose. It was designed to incent excellence.

Absolute excellence, though, meant much more than just executing a flawless routine. In fact, you could execute a routine perfectly and only be guaranteed a score of 9.9. The key was to add elements of virtuosity and originality, Vidmark explained.

Virtuosity meant doing something differently than it had ever been done before. For example, there was a traditional move on the Pommel Horse that had always been executed using two hands. That year, Vidmark modified the move by using only one hand in its execution. By demonstrating virtuosity in a number of areas in his routine, he could attain a score as high as 9.95.

To attain a perfect 10.0, a gymnast first had to complete a perfect routine. Then they’d have to infuse it with virtuosity. And finally, to get the last .05 of a point, they had to do something that had simply never been seen before. In his routine in 1984, Vidmark became the first gymnast to perform a handstand mid-routine rather than at the end (where it had been done before).

Peter went on to become the highest scoring US men’s gymnast at that time. And the only way that could have happened was for him to take a significant risk. To get the things he most wanted, he had to try things that had never been done before.

Risk, and yes, some failures are not just part of life, they are essential to our success. Teddy Roosevelt summed it up so well in the following speech:

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again… but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Risk and its frequent setbacks are not impediments to success; they are its very foundation. Risk, simply defined, is taking a chance that could result in gain or loss. It means doing something you’ve never done or differently than you’ve ever done it to achieve different and, ideally, better results.

Here are 5 reasons why taking risks is critical to your happiness and success:

1-It’s Essential to Creativity

Engaging our creativity is a fundamental human need, just behind air, water and food. If we aren’t creating something with our lives, we’re stagnant at best, and most likely in decline.

Taking Risks

The very definition of creativity mandates some element of risk; because to get something you’ve never gotten, you must do something you’ve never done. If you recognize the need for creativity and innovation in your life, then you have to take risks.

2-It Gives us Hope

At the root of creativity is an element of uncertainty and ambiguity. There is an unknown at the other side of risk that can strike fear or give hope.

If you have no risk in your life, the best tomorrow can be is a stale copy of today. It means we can’t grow, can’t evolve, and will never make things better for ourselves than they are today. So it’s vital to appreciate that risk is the gateway to our lives becoming something more… and that’s the beginning of hope.

 3-It Gives us Power

I often quote Brené Brown’s Ted Talk in which she said, “When we’re vulnerable, we’re beautiful.”

Taking RisksWhen we take the risk of being vulnerable, our senses and emotions are heightened, our adrenaline flows, and our thoughts crystalize; we’re at our best. It is at these moments of vulnerability that we’re attractive to others, and that’s when we bring others closer to us. It’s also at these very instants that we’re most creative, and can therefore create the most transformative results in our lives.

4-It Breeds Confidence

One of the most significant epidemics in our society is a lack of resilience among average citizens. Resilience is the inability to deal with adversity and lack of confidence in order to take action in the face of challenges.

The antidote to this is the development of authentic self-esteem, which can only be cultivated by taking new action and getting results. The simple act of doing something in the face or risk is not only energizing, it also gives us a keen sense of power and supports the growing belief that we can manipulate life to our own benefit.

To recognize we can fail and the world won’t end is an incredibly empowering experience. And we can’t take action and change things without taking risks!

Taking Risks

 5-It Promotes Growth

I once heard a quote that went, “With contrast comes clarity.” Contrast is adversity; as in, when the world is rubbing against us a bit. Two inevitable outcomes of risk are discomfort and failure. But despite the negative associations, both bring clarity to your mind, making them great incentives to seek adversity, discomfort and yes, risk. Because it’s at these times that you learn what you want and don’t want, who you do and don’t want to be, and what adjustments you need to make. Risk is, without doubt, a central catalyst for growth in our lives.

There is no reward without risk. You can’t get a job or be accepted into college without applying and risking rejection. You’ll never get a date without asking someone out. A woman takes a huge risk when becoming pregnant, but without taking the leap, she’d never get to experience the joy of motherhood. Every positive and meaningful step we take has some element of risk in it.

To quote and slightly modify one of my favorite lines from the movie The Princess Bride: “Life is risk, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you something.” I guarantee that your ability to embrace risk rather than fear it will be directly reflected in the joy and success you experience in life.

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