I have never thought of myself as a big risk taker. Indeed, I am far from spontaneous, am a careful planner, and always think things over very carefully before making a decision. Yet to the outside world, I would be viewed as a risk taker if nothing else because of having been a serial entrepreneur, when as we know most new businesses fail. Who on earth in their right mind would bet their life savings, get a second mortgage and risk everything to bring a business idea into fruition, which in all likelihood would fail? I look back on it all and think I must have been certifiably nuts.There is no other way to look at it. My purpose here today is not to talk about my entrepreneurial ventures, but of taking risks in general in your life.
There is an old saying of ” nothing ventured nothing gained”. Taking risks involve taking action out of one’s comfort zone, and who you know yourself to be. Mostly, we have ideas of who we are and our actions are congruent with those pictures of ourselves. Sometimes those negative self pictures fuel self defeating behaviors.
A fat person will eat more, a woman with low self esteem will become the victim of abuse, the alcoholic will drink; I am sure you can think of many such examples. Even if your behavior is not especially dysfunctional, you maybe what I was called in my high school, ” a late developer” , where somebody recognizes that you have potential beyond what you see yourself, but it doesn’t get actualized or not till later than usual.
Back in the 1990s when I was conducting personal growth workshops, I developed an exercise called ” My Successful Twin”. The core of this exercise was to write about your successful twin who unlike you, could have anything she wanted in life in the way she lived, her relationships, her work and health. Writing that story is a back door access to what you really want in life, unfettered by the boundaries that you unconsciously set around yourself. I wrote my own version of My Successful Twin several years before I met my late husband. When I read it to him he was puzzled, and queried whether I had written this story before or after I had met him since the description of my visualized life partner was so uncannily like him.
In order to break my own self limiting boundaries, I have signed up for challenging activities in the past that I can only look back and scratch my head and say ” You did that? What on earth ever possessed you?”. I include amongst those activities, an Outward Bound type course and fire-walking, all of which I did in my thirties shortly after I got divorced from a first marriage. I really did not know who I was, since my identity had been tied up with being a wife and partner for many years. So who was this woman called Mercia Tapping, for I had reclaimed my maiden name? Who I turned out to be after I learned to take risks, held many surprises. One story I will share with you.
I was undertaking a simple enough looking challenge. There was a wire strung between two cliffs over a chasm, and I was supposed to just hand over hand and pull my way across. I was in a safety harness. Quite frankly, the exercise looked easy enough. Those before me glided easily across the chasm, to the delight of their cheering team the other side. There were three such teams crossing the chasm at the same time. Then came my turn. I started well enough rapidly reaching the halfway mark, and then I slowed up and the arm over arm movements became painfully slow. Then I stopped completely, two thirds of the way across. There was nothing in me left. I was exhausted and no cheering of my team could persuade my body to move more than a few inches. Dusk was approaching and everyone else had finished the exercise. All the teams gathered on the cliff top, together with my team, to scream, cheer and exhort me to find the strength to reach the finish line. And so I began to move, an inch at a time. The crowd got larger and wilder in their cheering of me. By the time I got to the finish line, a number of people had lost their voices. I learned a very valuable lesson that day. It was to keep on going when you think there is nothing left in you to give, and never underestimate the value of the team and friends who help you reach those goals.
By taking these outward bound courses and the final, incredible challenge of fire walking, I had conquered massive fears, indeed sheer terror, when rappelling down a cliff side or walking across burning coals. By doing so I figured that real life would be a piece of cake by comparison. I had taken risks to discover what lay beneath the woman who had been crushed by divorce. I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. I became someone that I would have never predicted in my adolescence, the time when you wonder who you will be when you grow up. But the key to it all is finding the courage to take risks and keep shattering those invisible limits we place on ourselves. Dream big, you never know where it will take you.