Taking risks. Facing uncertainty

I have to admit I like the risk-taking, swashbuckling Tiger Woods rather than the play-it-safe brand that blew the PGA Championship at Hazeltine yesterday. Easy for me to say, it’s his risk, not mine. But watching two days of “safe” golf left me unimpressed.

I admit that I often sit and think if I were younger, I’d go work on an Alaskan crab boat, spend the rest of the year as a bush pilot, and then top it off with a few months of being an ice-road trucker. Or live the life of the sons of Jack Beck, whom I wrote about here, who explore the world because they have a willingness to, while Jack and his wife, Marmy, pursue endeavors without security (BTW, I saw Jack and Marmy at Oshkosh last month and they reported their boys were “somewhere in East Africa.”)

Do you take risks? And has doing so paid off for you in the quality of your life? Or have you played it safe, choosing safe harbor over the exhilaration of white water?

Lane Wallace, creator of the Web site No Maps. No Guides. No Limits, explores these questions. You can find her e-book — Surviving Uncertainty: Take a Hero’s Journey — here is the guest on Midmorning at 10:06 (CT).

What I’m looking for is your stories of facing risk and uncertainty, especially in these troubled times. Submit them below.


10:08 a.m. – Doesn’t sound like News Cut is going to get an on-air plug, so I guess it’ll just be the News Cut loyalists.

10:09 a.m. “If you really want to explore the world,” she says, “there’s risk that goes with that. Any entrepreneur knows that…” Interesting comment on “passion.” “Passion is what gets you through the long night when things go wrong.”

10:10 a.m. – So what is risk? “If– by choice or not by choice, if you’ve been laid off or life changes on you without your permission — or whether you say ‘I’m not happy with my job and I want to form my own business,’ you are agreeing to step into an uncomfortable place.” She says there’s never been an adventure — whether being self-employed or flying relief supplies into Sudan or the Congo — when she hasn’t thought, “whatever possessed me to do this?”

10:13 a.m. – Question: Is the ability accept risk something we’re “hard-wired” with? Consider this from Business Management Daily:

Now scientists find that a taste for risk is hard-wired in about 10% of us, with thrill-seekers making up a small fraction. When researchers compare brain scans of thrill seekers and controls, the thrill seekers’ fear centers stay dark when a balloon explodes, while their pleasure centers light up. It’s the opposite for everybody else.

10:17 a.m. – Calls coming soon. Ben writes in:

I’m not a risk/adrenaline junkie, but I perform better when I’m in new and challenging situations. I am more engaged and ambitious when I am living abroad or doing something that’s new and competitive. If I’m at home in Minnesota listening to MPR, I’m not nearly as ambitious, emboldened, or hungry.

That brings up an interesting point. When are we most engaged at work? When we just started the job, right? It’s new. It’s a little scary.

10:18 a.m. – Caller from Rochester says she turned 50 and decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. She left one of the largest employers in the city to do so. Says her big risk was quitting her job. “People need to take responsibility personally for understanding their is risk. But risk is not death. Risk is not danger. You take responsibility for what may come your way,” she said.

10:24 a.m. – Caller Michael tells story of his daughter who was stuck in the Rome airport at customs. “She found somebody and was able to persuade them to help her. I got her three voicemails at once and they changed to, ‘No problem, Dad, I’ve got it.’ If I’d been there, I’d have helped her and taken that world experience from her. She’s a world traveler now.”

10:29 a.m. – There are always people around to tell you you shouldn’t take a risk. “Three-year-olds haven’t learned that anything is impossible. You look at how alive they are and they think they can do anything. Along the way, the more that we hear people say ‘you need to have a practical major,’ or ‘you have a family, you need to be more responsible,’ put bricks around your heart,” Wallace says.

10:35 a.m. – Related Wallace writing: “In Defense of Liberal Arts

10:36 a.m. – Most of the time we’re afraid of the future. Wallace says in any situation, look around and evaluate “how I am right now.” Most of the time, you’re OK.

10:42 a.m. – Caller has a good question: “When is the risk worth taking?” Answer: “It comes down to how badly you want it. If you think life is a dress rehearsal, think again. If you’re at the point where you’re saying, ‘I don’t like it here,’ you have to leave. It’s not easy. It’s where passion becomes important.”

10:43 a.m. – Lane mentions Alan Klapmeier of Cirrus Design in Duluth. He transformed an industry, maxing out family credit cars at some point to meet payroll. He’s a heck of a success story, but it’s worth noting the economy has not been kind to Cirrus. James Fallows of The Atlantic, well connected with Klapmeier, notes he’s left the company as CEO.

10:47 a.m. – Elise of Minneapolis writes:

This is such an important topic. The barriers to risk–especially other people–really makes sense to me. I stayed in a job I hated for four years and my contract was finally not renewed. It wasn’t until then that I actually started my own business–something that I’d dreamed about for a decade. My husband was very worried about my being successful and I had some sleepless nights myself. But I was okay; we were okay and I got my business off the ground. And, I’m much happier. Last December, when I declared that I was writing a novel, so many people were skeptical. But I put what I thought I needed as a support system into place — fiction writing classes, membership in writing associations, and a writing group — and am working toward my goal. After hearing Lane today, I recognize some of the things I still have in my way on my journey to writing fiction. Taking risk, having passion is what makes me feel alive! Great topic, great guest.

10:50 a.m. – Caller tells the story of packing up the VW and heading west, then calling her boyfriend in Florida and saying “I’m coming back.” He said, “no, you have to keep going.” She says it set the stage for the rest of her life. But, no, she didn’t marry the guy. I wonder what he’s doing now?

10:54 a.m. – Caller Bonnie, 60, says “during the course of my life I’ve made some bold choices. I’m now in this place where I’m financial fine, retired, my husband died three years ago and I don’t have any reason to take risks and yet I feel I need to move forward and be more bold. I’m having trouble because there’s not the need that was there when I was younger.”

Ah, how to find passion at age 60. Wallace says the goal in life is to stay interested. Suggests embracing freedom in later stages of life. “You can figure out what you want to see, what you want to learn, what you are curious about? You’re not on autopilot until you die.”

10:57 a.m. – Wallace refers to the women who flew back in the “old days,” which gives me another reason to post this YouTube video.

10:59 a.m. – The show has now ended, and I’m off to get coffee, pretty much the same as I do every day around this time. But today, it’s a bit depressing.

  • I’m not a risk/adrenaline junkie, but I perform better when I’m in new and challenging situations. I am more engaged and ambitious when I am living abroad or doing something that’s new and competitive. If I’m at home in Minnesota listening to MPR, I’m not nearly as ambitious, emboldened, or hungry.

  • Bryan Starry

    I’m in the early stages of a new adventure. I lost my job in December 08 making $80 k a year in the wind industry. Like the rest of the economy there is very little new hiring going on in renewables at this time.

    I will be starting school full time on the 24th of August. I have not been in school full time since 1982. The daunting part of this is the thought of being a poor student working every free minute just to make ends meet but the excitement of the new learning and finally having that degree under my belt are truly the driving force behind this.

    I have never been afraid of physically challenging endeavors, being a bit of an adrenalin junky, but when it comes to life aspects I find it very different story.

  • Dennis

    I was 23 when I fullfilled my life’s goal of flying jet airplanes off aircraft carriers.

    After I got out of the military, I stuggled a tad, but rarely turned down an opportunity. I believe that we are only going around once and I wanted to experience whatever I could.

    I have had a wonderful life with no regrets.

    Re’ failure… that is only a word. Instead look at failure as just experience and life is full of those.

    How many days do you have when absolutely eeverything goes exactly the way you want. There are failures every day, but that doesn’t make a person a failure.

    Every day is a blessing and life it accordingly

  • bsimon

    I take fewer risks than I used to. 10 1/2 years ago I quit my job and travelled for a year, with the goal of figuring out what to do with the rest of my life. The hardest part was making the decision to go; once that was done, making appropriate arrangements were just a matter of figuring out the details.

    Now I have a spouse and children and am back at work in the industry that I had hoped to escape. The low risk path was to resume the career I wanted to leave behind; now that I have mouths to feed, it seems harder than ever to put those concerns aside and take risks again.

  • Ann Omdahl

    My husband and I farmed for 30 years. Since you can’t move land, it never entered our mind to move. But when the 80’s hit along with high fuel prices and low commodities, we rented out our land and I went back to college. It had been 30 years since I was there and hadn’t been a good student, couldn’t decide on a major and I had test anxiety.

    I graduated in social work when I was 50 with honors and we moved to WA where I got a job with hospice – my goal in returning to college. My husband, who didn’t think he could do anything but farm got a job with Boeing. We had a wonderful 18 years there until we decided to retire move back to MN where our children and grandchildren live.

    It was the best thing that happened to us but at the time it was frightening to leave a town where we lived most of our lives and the only life we knew.

  • kennedy

    There is a big difference between thrill seeking risk (a motorcycle rider weaving through traffic at high speed) and taking a risk in an attempt to achieve something (taking a second mortgage to start a business).

    In the first case, the reward is the risk itself. There is no goal other than to face risk. The desire may be to show bravado or get a jolt of adrenaline. It is a selfish risk.

    In the second case, risk is something that must be faced in order to achieve something difficult.

    Life being a spectrum, there is plenty of middle ground between these. I must say, however, that I respect the risk taken by Rosa Parks much more than the risks taken by Steve Fossett.