Risk Taking – Take a Risk

Risk Taking – introduction

Are you playing it too safe and getting nowhere fast? Are you stuck in the comfort zone and just hoping to have a mistake-free, loss-free and stress-free life? It may sound like the good life, but it is actually the “no-life” way to go.

Taking risks is something that is generally not encouraged, not just in Zambia but all around the world. A friend of mine showed me an article by Brian McBrearity, a reformed Wall Street asset manager – now working in the SME development and financial services field, titled “Zambia Journal: No Risk, No Reward.” He worked in Zambia for some months and in the journal he tries to share his experiences. The article stated that “there seems to be a cultural rejection of risk and aggression in Zambia...” He was referring to risk-taking in business but went on to explain that Zambians generally prefer to take it easy and not take risks or be aggressive in many areas of their lives.

That a foreigner who spent only a few months in the country should notice this about us is very revealing. On the other hand, it is also a little disappointing. Why are we so afraid to take risks? Why are we not willing to leave the well trodden path and do something that challenges us? Mr. McBrearity proposes that “the aversion to risk appears to stem from colonial times” and basically concludes that it is the past foreign control that has “permeated the culture, and the resulting passive behavior seems to have been ingrained in successive generations.”

It is not my intention to get into whether his reasoning is right or wrong. I quote him only to make the point that he has a very good point. We are passive. We don’t take calculated risks.

Risk Taking – the falseness of security

The need for security is one of the things that keeps us from taking risks. We have a need, as human beings, to want to stick to the familiar and predictable. We like things we can control and know well. But, as Hellen Keller said: "Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." This need for “job-security” and such is exactly what keeps most people from living a truly satisfying and successful life. The illusion of safety blinds them to the fact that, ultimately, life is passing them by whilst they are hiding in the bushes. The real living is out in the open.

Fear and doubt also keep us from taking risks. These two are a dreamer’s worst enemy. Take the advice of Gareth O’Callaghan and “Do not fear risk. All exploration, all growth is calculated. Without challenge people cannot reach their higher selves. Only if we are willing to walk over the edge can we become winners.”

Risk Taking – dumb risk takers

Of-course, there are plenty of people around that are literally walking over the edge and taking dumb risks. These range from casual unprotected sex, to drunken driving and drug and alcohol abuse. It is risky behaviour no doubt, but it is definitely not intelligent or calculated risk-taking. Such risks are just plain dumb. As a dreamer, you need to steer clear of dumb risk-taking and dumb risk-takers.

Risk Taking – good risk taking

What you should do is be willing to make mistakes, hold unconventional or unpopular positions, never be afraid to take on a challenge, always keep focused on your dreams and do whatever it takes to achieve them. By taking such risks your personal growth, integrity and accomplishments are enhanced. You need to do something that forces you to stretch from your present state to a state of greater personal growth. This applies both in business as well as in our personal lives. Quantum leaps in learning, solving problems, inventing new products, and discovering new phenomena require risk taking.

Anything you will ever do in life is risky. Risk is, by definition, the possibility of incurring loss or misfortune. So “to be alive at all involves some risk.” The risk is of being alive is dying. When you go to school you risk failing your exams. When you marry you risk divorcing. When you drive you risk being involved in an accident. The very nature of life requires risk taking. A small child would never learn to walk, talk, or socially interact without taking risks, experiencing successes and failures, and then monitoring and adjusting accordingly.

Risk Taking – mistakes are part of life

John W. Holt would add that “If you're not making mistakes, you're not taking risks, and that means you're not going anywhere.” Making mistakes is part of taking risks and it is part of growing. The key is to learn from your mistakes and keep moving ahead. However, the question that still remains is how can you take intelligent or calculated risks?

Calculated or intelligent risks are those where the potential downside is limited, but the potential upside is virtually unlimited. The potential benefits of the risk should outweigh the potential losses if you are to take it. Otherwise it is not a good risk. Before you jump into anything always understand what you stand to lose and ensure that it is outweighed by what you stand to gain.

Risk Taking – lessen the risk

A second aspect of intelligent risk-taking is to imagine all the things that could possibly go wrong when making a decision on whether or not to take a risk. The trick is then to put all the measures in place that you can to prevent those things from happening. But be careful not to want to be perfectionist in this area. You cannot possibly prepare for every outcome. You need to have some faith in yourself and the fact that you will be able to handle whatever comes your way.

Risk Taking – conclusion

Lastly, learn to take action. The longer you procrastinate, the higher the likelihood that you won’t do something. Action is important for self-confidence to develop. With every small success you will be learning to take bigger and better risks. “Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not that one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one's ideas, to take a calculated risk - and to act” (Andre Malraux).

Remember the words of Leo F. Buscaglia: “The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.”

I know that that person is not you.

You are all you can be. Go on and be it.


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