Facing risk often puts our stomach in knots and generates many questions that swirl around in our racing minds.
What will happen if I do or don’t make a decision?
What if I make the wrong choice?
How will the person respond if I take a risk with them?
What if I fail?
As someone who struggles with anxiety, I’m very familiar with the mental sharknado of seemingly perilous decisions. However, in learning to manage my own anxiety I’ve realized it is less of a sharknado to manage and more of a swarm of gnats to swat away when I’m facing risks. When facing decisions, honing in on a few questions can help bring clarity and pinpoint a starting place to answer important questions, minimize anxiety, and weigh risks.
The Cost of Risk
My friend Michelle recently graduated from seminary and has been looking for a job. Graduating can be a confusing time, especially when you’re a middle-aged adult with four grown kids. As I’ve watched Michelle over the past four years, I’ve observed qualities in her leadership that have helped her navigate risk incredibly well.
When she sensed God inviting her to pursue an MDiv she immediately felt it was unattainable. With three teenagers she wondered how she and her husband would pay for college, let alone her own higher education. Michelle had to answer the question: “What will the cost be if I take a risk?” Clearly there is a financial cost to graduate school. But costs extend beyond finances- stress, managing schedules, family dynamics, and insecurities are all costs in trying something new.
As you consider taking a risk in your own life, what are the costs? It could be a personal or professional cost. There is a time cost to focusing on your health to create space for exercise and to intentionally prepare healthy meals. There is a relational cost to investing in a new team member, new friendships or deepening a relationship with a spouse or family member. There is an emotional cost to taking a promotion that will relocate you to an unfamiliar place.
Past Experiences and Risk
We often avoid risks because there have been things in our past that bring up fear of trying something new. My son Ozzy has been looking for a new activity since choosing to do something different than ninja warrior training. Thinking he would enjoy trying gymnastics again, I signed him up for a trial class. On the day of the class he dissolved in a pile of tears and refused to go. I was completely confused. Didn’t he like swinging from bars and rings? Once he was able to calm down we were able to talk through why he didn’t want to try gymnastics. “I was worried I’d be the only boy there and that the teachers would yell at me if I wasn’t paying attention.” Ah! I had forgotten that when he had briefly done gymnastics we stopped for those exact reasons. Once we were able to identify his fears of “My past experience makes me afraid to try something new” we were able to talk through different ideas of how he could overcome his fears or find something new to try.
Are there things that have happened in the past that makes you feel afraid to try something new? An embarrassing moment during a presentation, or a way you treated a supervisee poorly? Take a moment to think through a risk you’re facing and jot down anything that comes to mind that causes fear to well up like a shark about to pop out of a manhole (yes, I’m sticking with this metaphor).
Self-Perception and Risk
Our own self-perceptions can cloud our vision when we consider risks. As I wrote about in an earlier article about growth mindset vs. fixed mindset, we often let negative self-perceptions dictate what we can and can’t do. As I’ve shifted away from a full-time career in ministry and into a career in real-estate appraising I’ve had to manage my own self-perceptions about pivoting into something new. I wondered if people would see me as a failure if I didn’t continue to work in ministry, if I was foolish to start in an industry I which I had zero experience, if I was squandering the skills, gifts and abilities God has given me if I didn’t continue on the same path.
Though I have been enjoying learning things in a new area, I’ve had to battle my own anxieties about how others perceive me and how I perceive myself. Rather than letting the snapping jaws of self-criticism cut my self-esteem to shreds when I make mistakes, I’ve reminded myself of what is actually true: I’m brave, I’m a risk-taker, I can learn to do new things.
Prayer and Risk
Lastly have you sought counsel and prayed about taking a risk? Do you have a trusted friend or colleague with whom you can weigh the risks? Have you asked Jesus to give you wisdom in the risk or whether it is the right timing? In his book, Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer shares a story about taking a risk to accept a prestigious job. Rather than letting his ego give an automatic yes to the position, he gathered a group of friends to ask him questions about the job and his motivations. Through being open with friends and inviting others into the process, Palmer realized that though the job would have made him feel important, it didn’t fit his passions or interests.
We don’t need to be alone in the process of taking risks. There was a reason Jesus sent disciples out in pairs. We are meant to be in a community to listen, cheer one another on, provide comfort when things are difficult and help us remember that taking risks is part of the faith journey in following Jesus. Rather than letting your anxieties control you in taking risks, share them with others. You’ll be out of the sharknado storm far more quickly than if you keep them to yourself.