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The “Risky Business” of Life

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015 by Dr. Ilona L. Tobin

What’s riskier: skydiving or leaving your marriage of 18 years?

For many of us, psychological risks—such as quitting a secure, well-paying job to go back to school or speaking on stage or choosing to adopt a child—may ultimately feel more dangerous than those of physical derring-do.

Yet these are the challenges that we are asked to face time and again if we are to continue to grow as individuals. Each time we take a risk that contributes to our personal growth or enhances our self-esteem or enriches our lives, we make the choice to stretch ourselves, knowing there are no guarantees and chancing possible failure. It can be exhilirating and terrifying at the same time. Growth-producing risks generally fall into three categories.

Self-Improvement Risks

These are the risks you take when you want to get ahead, learn something new or make a distant dream a reality. Maybe you want to change careers, or take singing lessons. Perhaps you decide to learn to speak Italian… in Italy! On one side of the risk is the person you are and, on the other, the person you want to become.

Commitment Risks

All commitment risks have emotional stakes, whether you pledge yourself to a person or a relationship or to a cause, a career, or a value. According to Joseph Ilardo, author of Risk-Taking for Personal Growth, if you avoid making emotional commitments, you all but guarantee that your emotional growth will be stunted.

Self-Disclosure Risks

Communication risks fall into the category of self-disclosure. Anytime you tell someone how you really feel, you’re taking the chance of self-disclosure. When you open up to others and reveal who you really are, how you feel and what you want and need, you make yourself vulnerable. It is impossible to be assertive without doing so.

All risks carry with them the possibility of failure. Often significant sacrifices must be made before any real benefits are realized. Routines may have to change; the familiar may have to be released. You may be rejected or humiliated. In the case of commitment to a value, personal safety may be in danger. Consider those who stand up for what they believe in or put their own health and well-being on the line in the name of a cause. Challenging yourself is often the key to personal growth and development.

Are you a risk-taker? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does every decision involve endless debates with yourself?
  • Do you accept less than you should because you’re afraid to speak up?
  • Do you have difficulty making emotional commitments to others?
  • Do you make up excuses that stop you from taking advantage of opportunities  for self-improvement?
  • Does fear of disapproval keep you from doing what you’d like to do?

A “yes” answer to these questions indicates a reluctance to take risks, which may mean you tend to play it safe and reject change. Consider this: to fulfill your potential, to discover your real self and live an authentic life, you must take risks. And while security may appear to be the absence of change, the only genuine security lies in taking risks.

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Ilona Tobin has been a psychologist and a marriage and family therapist for more than 25 years in Birmingham, Michigan. For more information, please visit her listing on the Therapist Directory.