The Importance of Risk-Taking

  • Recovery is a daring act: It takes courage to risk the status quo to want to create a better life for yourself. The number-one factor that enables someone to succeed is the ability to take initiative. Risking discomfort is necessary. It doesn't matter what you do, only that you do something. Here in this blog I'm going to talk about the timeline of my recovery, and give you ideas as to how you can make it easier to risk taking action.


    Things happened in a snowball roll for me: if I hadn't followed through on my goal of going to school, I would've remained stuck, floundering through one dead-end job after another. It was through my education that I healed from the schizophrenia. At the time, it was the biggest risk I took in my life.

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    After I graduated, I found work as a public service librarian. Finding the work I loved gave me the confidence to join a memoir-writing workshop, where I wrote about my recovery and revealed myself to strangers. Ironically, when the other writers accepted me, it was then I had the confidence to join a support group. Next, I risked having a freelance writing career. I e-mailed editors and pitched my services, and that's why I'm here today.


    The circle of my success really started in 1987 when I was released from the hospital and joined the day program. I reflect on this now after having been off from work for a week and done some soul-searching. As hard as it was, having graduated college and had a breakdown, and not able to go straight to work, I look back on those first three years in my recovery and realize I needed that time off to work on the things that weren't working.


    Why do I tell you all this about my route to wellness? To show you that taking the first step gives you the courage to take the next step. A couple weeks ago I cracked open a fortune cookie that implored, "Confidence begets confidence." It truly is as simple as that. I've discovered that the more I do, the more I want to do.


    Here are some ideas about how you can make it easier to take action:


    Do one thing. You may not know the outcome, or even know what you want to happen, but doing one thing makes all the difference. For instance, if you have options, and aren't sure what to do, pick one and follow through on that, and if it doesn't work, try again with the next choice. It doesn't matter which one you choose first. If you can't decide, out of fear, it will keep you immobilized, and be more difficult to act.


    My friend Robin has spoken in his blog about how he has had to meet his fears head-on and not skirt them. When I took each of the risks mentioned above, I felt like there was a flock of seagulls beating in my stomach. Will there be times when your throat is tight and your heart races? Absolutely. The absence of this good kind of fear gives us a false security, and isn't healthy in the long run.


    What are some other ways to risk taking action? I'll guide you back to my "Happy Holidays" blog entry where I talked about setting a time limit for your involvement, and then adjusting it accordingly for holiday parties. You can also set a limit on your daily activities: give yourself one hour at the store or to visit a friend, and then call it a day. The next time out, you can up it to two hours, and re-adjust halfway through.


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    To be honest, I'm not a big fan of continually setting and re-setting goals, every three weeks or even every three months. I believe in "reflection in action," to choose your one thing, go for it, and if it doesn't work, move on. I've written here about goal setting for beginners and black-belt goal setting, but I don't mean to imply that our life's purpose is accumulating notches on our belts.


    To build up to taking risks whose outcomes are dependent on your efforts, try doing one new thing each day just for the spontaneous enjoyment of it. Disavow yourself of the result. As my father drove me home down Hylan Boulevard today, I almost cried because I remembered something I did which gave me happiness: I would eat dinner in Dominick's Café before attending a NAMI meeting. Maybe it doesn't seem like a real risk, but it was a choice I made, and when I reach back in my mind, it's up there now with the big ones.


    When I attended insurance school briefly, I learned in the industry that risk is defined as "uncertainty concerning the chance of a loss." My trusty Oxford American College Dictionary also defines risk as "the possibility that something unpleasant or unwelcome will happen."


    So how can you act if you fear the worst? How can you move forward if you might lose everything? You can practice risk avoidance, which I don't recommend and don't do myself. Instead, I put things in perspective. Early on in my recovery, I believed that having lost my mind meant there wasn't anything else I could ever fear losing. I had already been devastated by schizophrenia, so whatever happened after that I felt I'd be able to handle. If I tried something and failed, hey, I was still alive.


    One technique I espouse is to engage in a healthy dose of self-mockery. Imagine, for instance, you have to give a speech and are quaking in your shoes. You could say, "I have to give this speech, and I'm going to bomb out. People will start throwing tomatoes, and I'll have enough to make tomato sauce. Nobody will ask questions at the end, and my career as a public speaker will be over. A guy with a shepherd's crook will whisk me offstage and I'll have to exit through door number three."


    Taking things to their ridiculous conclusion will give you a good chuckle. Either that, or you won't have the energy to continue worrying.


    The last buffer against risk I'm not sure I talked about in any of my blogs before. Did I tell you about my "Five Friends" theory? Most people can count on one hand the number of true, close friends they have. So I believe in the buddy system: have one or two friends you can reality test with. These are the confidants you can tell, "I'm afraid I'll mess up," and they'll hold your hand as you take the leap.


    That is why I am here, too: my humble goal is to inspire you to take action to change your life for the better. One day at a time.

Published On: January 02, 2008