E.E. Cummings once said, “Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” I agree with Cummings. Risk and confidence are like Lindsey Lohan and rehab: they go hand in hand. I know this, because in my life, I have found this principle to ring true.
I have always aspired to be brave. Brave enough to be better than the boys. Brave enough to do the hard things. Brave enough to take the risks. My quest for bravery has sent me 200 feet – head over skis – to the bottom of an expert ski run. A desire for courage has shattered my right ankle so badly, I have no feeling on the top of my right foot. It’s stretchered me into five ambulances, and almost drowned me. And after tomboy-ing, adrenaline-seeking, and self-helping my way through 25 years, I have learned this: with great risk comes great reward. And, to be successful in the world of risk, you have to have confidence in your back pocket.
As seasoned watermen know: waves act friendly, or they try to kill you. One cold November afternoon, the sea attempted murder on my life. 7-foot faces snarled in from the open ocean threatening to drown me or launch me into a fight with a territorial a-hole. Black’s, the most dangerous surf spot in San Diego, is frequented by the best waves, and consequently, the best surfers. And…”Shit.” 40 men crowded the lineup. I’m used to being the only girl in the water, but being the only girl among a hodgepodge of kooks and locals is one thing. Being the sole female among 40 or so expert surfers is quite another. And as these practically pro-surfers crowded the lineup, I scanned the water for a sign of estrogen. Nothing. At first, I was too afraid to paddle for anything.
Eventually, I did ride a few. You get to this point where you realize not taking the risk is worse than taking it. I knew that in order to become the surfer I wanted to be, dropping in at Black’s was a necessary step. And as I walked from the water, I felt like Alexander the Great scooping up his territories; Donald Trump slapping his name bombastically on the sides of hotels; or OJ Simpson receiving his “Not Guilty” verdict. And though it’s terrifying to ride a seven-foot wave at a break that makes you want to pee in your wetsuit, there are few things more rewarding. And as a totally unrelated side note: surfers micturate in their wetsuits all the time.
When I ask you to take risks, I am not talking about Evil Knievel – jumping 100 foot spaces between buildings – kinds of risks. I refer to risk of a more moderate kind. Risks like signing up for that self-defense class you’ve always wanted to try; hopping on a plane to study abroad in Rome; or quitting a job that makes you want to drill into your forehead.
In the sociology world, risk-takers are called Big-T people. Big-T people take a lot of risks and report a higher index of life satisfaction than those who eschew them. Most of the population dabbles in risk, but prefers to set up shop within the realms of safe and familiar. These are ordinary people. These are the “normal” among us, so to speak. These normals are not the happiest people. The happiest people take a just a few more risks. They aren’t gun-slinging John Dillingers, nor are they pathetically mundane Michael Scotts. They’re not irresponsible, but they are unafraid of the unknown. And one thing is certain: to become the best we can be, we must be willing to explore the unknown.
I’ve plummeted from ocean piers; swam at midnight under a Spanish moon; and downed shots of Absinthe all because I stepped from a ledge, shut my eyes, and hoped for the best. I was led to the best experiences of my life, and eventually, to my life’s purpose, by the hand of risk.
My friend who served in the Peace Corps for two years. She’s a risk-taker. My other friend, who followed his dream and started a band. He’s a risk-taker. Amelia Earhart was a big risk-taker, and so was Thomas Edison.
Sometimes we avoid the scary stuff in favor of the safe because it feels better. It’s more comfortable. But in order to become the best we can be, we must be willing to take leaps of faith. And we need to bring confidence aboard when we set off for lands undiscovered. If you don’t feel like you’re taking risks in your life, just consider this idea. If something feels wrong, unfulfilled – ask yourself where you are stuck. And if you feel like you’re not confident, and that worries you, here is some good news: confidence can be learned. So start bungee jumping; cooking; doing what it is you will wish you had done at 80. Do it now.