I’m not a big risk taker in general. I’m not a huge fan of thrill seeking. I don’t really like any type of activity where I have to take my glasses off for too long a period of time. Huge adventures are not really my forte either. I’m more into being fully prepared and organised before committing to anything. Overall, I like things to be safe, controlled and comfortable in the warm, little bubble I’ve created for myself.
But lately it feels like I’ve been taking a lot of risks. Like every day. Over and over. In all sorts of ways – creatively, professionally, emotionally, financially. And whilst I did manage to go on a motorbike ride, my glasses have remained firmly planted on my face. It all still feels a bit risky though.
Why? Because I’m putting myself out there.
Let’s think about emotional risks. Emotional risk taking is expressing our deepest needs, fears and desires and exposing our delicate, vulnerable self without knowing if the person we are opening up to will be able to meet and fulfil our needs. If we don't allow ourselves the opportunity to be open with others then we never have the chance of actually having our needs met. If others don't know what we need how can there be a strong possibility that our needs will be fulfilled? It is only by taking a risk to reveal our self and our needs when there are no guarantees and there is a chance of rejection or disappointment.
Taking a risk and revealing our authentic self can be overwhelming. Because being vulnerable raises our anxiety. This fear, which is in all of us, is deep and remote. It might be evoking our earliest experiences. The dread could be reminding us of our most harrowing questions from childhood: Will I be cared for? If I work and work and work at it, will I be embraced or rejected? If we put ourselves out there in some meaningful way, we are likely to experience some form of this anxiety. But it means we’re probably doing something right.
As I’ve banged on about time and time again, vulnerability is defined as the courage to show up and be seen and heard when we can’t control the outcome. It’s what happens when we put ourselves out there when there’s a chance it could all go to shit.
It’s an uncomfortable position. It’s filled with uncertainty and risk and emotional exposure. Because of this, we’re hard-wired to try and avoid the feelings of fear and anxiety that it produces.
But anything that requires a little bit of courage – going on a motorbike ride, saying ‘no’ to something at work when you normally always say ‘yes’, opening yourself up to someone, starting a new project, getting yourself a mortgage, accepting the generosity of others, asking for forgiveness, (I am really busy right now!) – involve copious amounts of vulnerability.
And vulnerability presents a dilemma. We have a goal and we need to take a risk to reach for it.
But it might be worth remembering where the risk is. The real risk is not in exposure, but in withdrawal. By pulling away from the world either by refusing to put our work or our creativity or our voice or our emotions on the line again we guarantee failure. We deny our self the opportunity to forge the connections that make life worth living. Exposing our self and showing up is the only way we can develop emotionally, professionally, creatively and personally. We can slice it and dice it a million different ways, but growth, real growth, lasting and meaningful growth, comes from one thing and one thing only: Risk. If we can keep at it, if we can push through the fear and self-doubt to let others see us as we are, our self and our message will be received. It may not happen exactly as we envision, but it will happen.