Ten years ago, I went scuba diving during a shark-feed with two of my kids. We descended sixty feet to the ocean floor and knelt in a large circle. A scuba pro (in chain mail) followed us down with a basket of fish heads. Scores of sharks slammed into us on the way to their feast.
I couldn’t resist buying a few professional photographs (even though they cost me an arm and a leg), and I posted my new favorite photo to my computer’s desktop.
(The hungry-looking big fish are sharks; the tasty-looking humanoids are my kids and me.)
About a year later, I opened my laptop on a business trip, and the man next to me asked about the shark picture. I told him about our shark dive. He then shared his own story of risk.
He once took a chance in a business venture, but the venture failed, costing him money, prestige, and self-respect. He decided never again to take a risk. And that’s how he has lived ever since.
Now, twenty years later, his wife just filed for divorce, he hates his job, and his kids despise him. He ended his story with a line that has haunted me. “Sam,” he said,
“The greatest risk I ever took was the decision never to risk again.”
We can’t avoid danger
We all know reckless hot-dogs, those kids who skateboarded behind cars by hanging onto their bumpers, or those adults who rock-climb, bungee-jump, or start their own businesses.
We say, “I’m a safety-first kind of person; I’m not a dare-devil; I’m just not reckless.” Yet the point is, safety-first can be just as perilous as thrill-seeking. (And not as fun.) Helen Keller said,
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.”
Risk-avoidance is risky. Safety first isn’t always safe. Whether we admit it or not, we are each risk-takers. We will fail more frequently due to timidity than we ever will fail if we daringly take a chance.
Cowardice is the greatest risk of all.
How dangerous are Christians?
I fear most Christians lean more towards timidity than risk-taking. Maybe it’s because being “wrong” sounds so much like sin. But being wrong isn’t wrong. It’s just a mistake. Gossiping about your friends behind their back is sin. Fruitless attempts are just fruitful lessons learned.
Someone once said, “It is so conceited and timid to be ashamed of mistakes. Of course they are mistakes. Go on and make the next one.” Pride, not humility, fuels our fear of the unknown.
Besides, God designed us for danger. It’s in our DNA. Jesus said, “I send you out as sheep amidst wolves.” (Doesn’t that sound a lot like humans swimming with sharks?) We are made for risk.
Although let’s balance brawn with brains. I swam with relatively safe sharks, not Great Whites.
Mistakes are great teachers
Back in 1983 I labored in my worst job ever. For eight months, I hated every moment. Sunday nights were terrible because tomorrow I would wake up to another week of misery.
Yet I learned more about business (transparency, who I am, how to care for customers, and how to deal with angry customers) than I ever did from any other five-year job that I loved.
We’ve all heard that mistakes are master teachers, but we forget. Here are some reminders:
- Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new (Einstein).
- A mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement (Henry Ford).
- It is said that those who never make mistakes never make anything (Unknown).
- If we look back on our past life we shall often see that we have been helped by our mistakes and injured by our wisest decisions (Churchill).
- Success is not the absence of mistakes. It is the product of mistakes (Unknown).
The ultimate form of recklessness is to live a life of riskless-ness.
So what can we do?
Shakespeare wrote, “Our doubts are traitors / And make us lose the good we oft might win / By fearing to attempt.” Shakespeare’s advice is simple. He says, “Try something. Anything.”
Habits can be wonderful aids. Professional golfers swing their clubs thousands of times at golf ranges to develop muscle memory. When the cameras zoom in, and the crowds shout, “In the hole,” their habit-trained muscles drive the ball three hundred yards down the fairway.
I suggest we develop a habit of the heart that embraces risk; that we make dozens—soon hundreds—of smaller risks until our heart-muscle is prepared for when the big risk arrives.
A new mental mindset
We may fear risk because the hazards seem too great. Sometimes they are. To develop our new habit, let’s forget about climbing Mt. Everest (for now). Let’s start by sharing with a friend something we’ve never shared; or write a poem, disagree in public, or learn to scuba dive.
Let’s make a mental adjustment; let’s recalibrate our thinking; let’s reframe our hearts; let’s,
- Decide to develop a habit of the heart of risk.
- Choose a life of intentional daring rather than a shrinking life of reckless riskless-ness.
- Agree each week to take three risks, to simply try three new ventures.
- Dispassionately evaluate and learn from our soon-to-be many mistakes.
Confidence in little risks grows our risk-ability. Our heart’s newfound capacity to succeed in little unknowns increases our heart’s competence to triumph through life’s greatest storms.
Soon we’ll swim with sharks. And we’ll sheep-fully (not sheepishly) engage the world of wolves.