Imagine living as if you had nothing to lose. You would throw yourself into every moment fully, take more risks and improvise at every step.

Are you a risk taker? Consider these questions-

Do you look for 100% certainty before making decisions?

Do you talk to strangers?

Do you challenge people in authority?

Would you take out a loan for a vacation?

Would you apply for a job you feel under qualified for?

Do you share private thoughts and feelings with new acquaintances?

Would you go sky diving?

Are you willing to be a minority of one on matters of personal opinion?

If you answered “no” to all, you are a safety first kind of person. The world needs people like you. You offer much needed skepticism and caution on issues of change and risk. As long as you feel fully satisfied in your caution, then hold tight. Or else maybe you answered “yes” to some. Maybe you are cautious in some areas of life and not others. Maybe you would quit a well paying job to follow your passion, but not jump out of plane in a million years. Or maybe you would climb the steepest ice covered peak but never challenge your boss under any circumstances.

Do your own risk assessment and trust your instincts. Think about taking some risks in new parts of your life to remind yourself to step beyond your comfort zone.  As a parent, I want to empower my kids to get to know their own risk boundaries and growth points. However I also want my kids to know that certain things like texting while driving are bad risks. Learning your own boundaries around risk taking is about living with forgiveness. We too often pass up risks for fear of being trapped, because we forget that life offers second chances. Risks are part of life’s inbuilt signposts. Risks either give you momentum to continue or a warning to stop. Either way, you know you’re alive. As Anais Nin said, “I postpone death by living, by suffering, by error, by risking, by giving, by losing.”

When it comes to matters of the heart, life calling or personal development, we could all do with a little nudge in the direction of taking greater risks. In order to be all that you can be, and push beyond self limiting boundaries, you will need to take some risks. These inner risks are far more heart stopping than physical risks but the payoff is enormous. I heard an interview with a group of climbers who described the relationship between climbing and risk taking. One said, “I climb so I don’t feel like a robot, so I feel like I’m doing something that is motivated by the ‘self.’” Another said, “There’s a freshness to the climbing experience that clears away the weariness of routine and the complexity of social norms. Climbing brings you back to a primal place, where values are being created and transformed.” Risk taking is part of how you discover the boundaries of where you end and others begin. When you push off from the guard rails of society’s norms, you get a clearer sense of who you are at your essence.

Without risk, you would never escape from the prison of who you think you have to be to satisfy the critics into the fullness of your true self that always was. The irony is that you need to take risks in order to move beyond the small self that keeps itself alive by believing there is too much at stake. There isn’t. There is more of substance in a piece of cheese than in the small self’s delusions of permanence. It’s all changing, all the time. The greater risk is to mistake a memory or an idea for the way things really are, for then you risk missing the moment. At your essence you know what is true risk and what is ego’s games, and you know that risk is necessary because on the other side of the risk lies freedom.

As you blossom, you realize that there are very few real risks because there are no terminal mistakes. When you are grounded in inner peace, whatever you do is appropriate and if you have to adjust your course, you do that and move on without self blame or judgment.

We live in a world that offers few certainties. The fearful have just as much risk of tragedy as the bold. Put your fears at ease. Remind them that you are whole and lovable, abundant and brilliant to begin with and this essence doesn’t need to be protected. Shine a light on your fear and it will be revealed for what it is. What fear called risk will soon be revealed as opportunity.

As Glenn Close’s character says to a group of acting students in her recent film Heights, “For Christ’s sake, take a risk sometime this weekend.” Its good advice, on stage, at work, in love and in life. Take a risk, if for no other reason than to remind yourself that you are alive and you are open to the adventure of whatever’s unfolding. Take a risk to remind yourself that the beauty of life is that it offers no certainties. It is open and dynamic. Open your heart to love. End a relationship that has run its course. Make a decisive career move. Initiate a difficult conversation. Ask someone on a date. Book the sky diving adventure. Speak to a stranger.

Be safe by all means. But don’t forget to truly live while you are alive. To end with the words of one of my favorite American philosophers, William James, “It is only by risking that we really ever live at all.”

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  1. Jenny says:

    I am in the “safety first” group.  I’ve been thinking about making changes, yet keep holding back.  It’s funny but I’ve taken hang gliding lessons, started a handmade business, applied for a patent, left soul-stealing work, started home schooling…all big risks.  Here I am on the edge of another something that is not yet defined. 

  2. ian says:

    Awesome Jenny. These words came to mind when I read your comment,
    You need not do anything.
    Remain sitting at your table and listen.
    You need not even listen, just wait.
    You need not even wait, just learn to be quiet, still and solitary.
    And the world will freely offer itself to you unmasked.
    It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
    -Franz Kafka

  3. Inspirational post! So many wonderful quotations and encouraging statements.
    Thanks for reminding me I need to take a risk ASAP.

  4. Jim Fantone says:

    Love this! I have recently begun to open up to things like talking to strangers. I used to avoid this kind of thing and rationalize that they don’t really want to talk to me either. By just starting to speak to people, I have discovered I was wrong. They love it! People are generally happy to talk. What a revelation. Thanks, Ian. Keep it coming.  

  5. david says:

    A lovely community of caring and sanity. An oasis for encouragement and transformation. Thank you

  6. Lorena says:

    Thanks for the post. I especially love the line, “Shine a light on your fear and it will be revealed for what it is. What fear called risk will soon be revealed as opportunity.”

    I’m an EMS Helicopter pilot and I use a risk assessment tool before every flight to help me identify risk and consider ways to mitigate the risk.

    Recently I’ve been thinking about personal risk and courage/vulnerability. To help me quantify risk I took an aviation risk assessment tool and modified it to create a vulnerability assessment matrix. This way I can see when I might be mildly outside of my comfort zone or if I am way outside of my comfort zone. 

    Quantifying risk helps “shine a light” on it and consider what structures to put in place to support ourselves in our personal growth.  

    We want to push our boundaries. But we want to push them without “red-lining.” A Vulnerability Assessment Matrix can help us see when we might approaching the boundaries of our comfort zone without going too far. 

    I’ve made the matrix downloadable so people can customize it. What’s risky for me may be  easy-peasy for another.


  7. ian says:

    this is GREAT Lorena- thank you. I will explore this more. Ian

  8. Sue Bock says:

    I like what Lorena has to say “What’s risky for me may be easy-peasy for another.  This reflects something from my own life.  I’ve had people astounded that when I and my husband travel that we don’t use tour groups.  For us it is easy (after planning of course) to jump on a plane and find another adventure.  Others just can’t grasp the concept of traveling by oneself is easy and it is rich with experiences. 
    When you play it safe, your life is safe; no risk, no gains either.  Baby steps can take you into new experiences which when reflected upon, you scratch your head and wonder, “What was I so afraid of?”  Sometimes someone needs just a hand to experience it in a “together” experience.  When you are with a supporter, a championer (is that a word?), the experience can be less scary and the mountain becomes a mole hill.  
    Sue Bock

  9. Noreen says:

    This is an awesome life advice. Thank you Ian for sharing your wise words, reading your posts this past few months have been a huge blessing! 🙂

  10. ian says:

    Thanks for the great feedback Noreen. Be well.

  11. Terri says:

    I am currently at a crossroads of risk/safety and have been asking for guidance in a way that I will not be mistaken. It was refreshing to wake up to this blog. It has helped to remind me that we need to take risks sometimes and to not let my fears/anxiety guide me, as I will be lead astray. Thank you so much Ian for posting this insightful and inspiring blog. Have a great day!

  12. Brilliant and heartfelt: what a beautiful post! Reminds me of something I just wrote a while back – 

  13. Ema says:

    I so needed to read this. I recently left a dead end, energy zapping job that had been my ‘stability’ and I left it with real certainty from the gut, but I haven’t made any certain plans as to what I will do next, other than live whatever passions come to me. I have begun to struggle with my decision since family members and some friends have begun to say things like ‘Are you stupid? In this economic climate?!’ ‘What will you do for money?’ ‘How will you pay your bills?’ ‘How can you leave a job without having another to go to’ ‘ many wish they had your job’ etc.All I know is, I don’t want to become a robot or to die one. It was very soul soothing to read this post and to feel that certainty in my decision again.Thanks!

  14. Christin says:

    Great post about taking risks, Ian! I must admit that I was a little surprised when I read the first couple of paragraphs about seeking safety, but as I read, it became clear that you’re really on to something here. In my former life, what I call “life before living,” I spent a lot of time on the sidelines watching other people do interesting things. It was not until I read “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Susan Jeffers that I really learned to relate to those butterflies in my stomach as harbingers of opportunity rather than something to be avoided at all costs. Thanks for this beautiful (and very well-written) reminder to keep expanding and growing! 

  15. Alan says:

    Mr. Lawton……I see you are a “spiritual teacher of inner wisdom”.  But what is your foundation for it?  The book of Proverbs in the Bible (and yes, I am bold enough and proud enough to mention it) tells us in chapter 4 verse 7, “Wisdom is the principal thing.  Therefore get wisdom.  And in all your getting, get understanding.”  I can tell you, it won’t happen at my kitchen table breathing in the same confusion I already have.  The entire book of Proverbs is enlightening.  There are 31 chapters, one for each day of the month.  I have followed this pattern for years and still find amazing nuggets every time I read it.  I am not here to criticize or judge you or your writing….just wondered what is your foundation for who and what you are.  Truthfully, some of what you wrote is conflicting.  You can’t advise “all people, of all faiths and no faith, to nurture spiritual growth and global healing” on the same level.  My source of strength and wisdom is the one who wrote it all and He tells us in the same book “lean not on your own understanding but in ALL your ways acknowledge Him (3:5,6).  Have a blessed day Sir and keep on seeking….. 

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