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Risk Taking Is the Way
to Get What You Want

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

Everything you want in life requires risk. If you want friends, for example, you've got to take the risk of introducing yourself, starting conversations, and showing interest in others. Of course, the people you choose might not be interested in you. That's the risk. But without taking the risk, you're left alone.

The same is true at work. Everything you want at work requires risk. If you want a promotion, for example, if you want a position with more responsibility, challenge and money, you'll have to take the risk of doing more than what you 're being paid to do. Of course, management may not notice and may not reward all your extra effort, and you may upset your colleagues who are doing just enough to get by.

That's life. Not every risk pays off. But taking intelligent, constructive risks will work much more often than sitting around waiting for things to happen.

Think about it. Everything you really, really, REALLY want requires risk. There are no exceptions. Whether it's a healthier body, a bigger income, a better career, or a stronger marriage, you can't get any of those things by just hoping they'll happen. You have to do something.

So what's the problem? Most people are addicted to one or more comfort zones. In fact, they're so used to doing certain things in a particular way that they even get defensive when you suggest a different way or a better way of doing things. The risk avoider will tell you, "I'm getting by. I don't need to be a risk taker. Things aren't that bad."

Well, things probably aren't that good either ... if you're not an active, constructive risk taker. Your comfort zone may be killing you ... and you may not even know it. For example, when you stay stuck in your comfort zone...

1. You damage your mental health.
After two years of research, Dr. Bruce Larson discovered that poor mental health and comfort-zone living go hand-in-hand. If you wimp your way through life, stuck in your comfort zone, afraid of change, afraid of risk, you cannot have great self-respect.

Think about it. If you go around saying things like: "I couldn't do that," or "I've always done it this way," you're killing off the very drive you need to achieve the bigger and better things in life. As Larson writes in his bookThere's a Lot More to Health Than Not Being Sick, when you think and talk along those lines, you're committing emotional suicide.

In the book, Taking Charge, Richard Leider and James Harding refer to emotional suicide as "inner kill." They define inner kill as "dying without knowing it" and "coping rather than living." It's a matter of taking the safe way, avoiding decisions, daydreaming about the future, talking about the life you'd like, and taking no risks whatsoever to make it happen. You simply cannot feel good about yourself if that's the way you live.

Emotionally, you use it or you lose it. You either take risks or you lose your ability to take risks. You can take risks to get what you want ... which will ... in turn ... build your self-confidence to take more risks. Or you can fail to take risks ... which will diminish your self-confidence so much you won't even think you could take a risk.

It's a downward cycle that you don't want to get on. If you don't take enough risks...

2. You damage your relationships.
Once you've damaged your emotional health and self-esteem, your lack of risk-taking begins to damage your relationships. After all, strong, healthy relationships are built on the risks of openness and honesty, but if you don't take those risks, you're headed for trouble. You'll never experience true love and real intimacy, no matter how long you've been married or been with someone if you play it too safe.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to take the relational risks of openness and honesty ... because someone's going to get hurt at one point or another. And the most natural response to hurt is to pull back ... and stop taking the risks you need to take to build your relationships.

You might even get to the point where you say, "I've been hurt enough. I no longer trust my husband (or my wife, or all males, or all females, or all managers, or all whomever). No more hurt for me." You might pull back in hopes of keeping out the hurt, but you also keep out the closeness. Quite simply, without risk, there is no intimacy.

Joyce H. Irminger says it quite well in her poem, Risk...

How carefully I guard the core of me--
The part I know is me,
The tender part that feels.

Letting others have glimpses only now and then--
The fear is much too great,
The hurt has come too often.

And yet how eagerly I want to share--
When I feel trusting,
When I sense caring.

The task is now to take the risk--
Not just to let others in,
But most of all, to let me out!

In addition to the loss of intimacy, you'll also lose the respect of others if you're a risk avoider. Imagine going to your boss and saying, "I have a great idea on how we can change our department to become more productive and profitable." You give your idea only to have your boss say, "We've never done that kind of thing before. We've always done it this way." How would you feel? You'd feel disappointed, and you wouldn't feel a great deal of respect for your boss.

There's no way you'd be thinking, "That's the kind of boss I want. She has such vision, such foresight. She inspires me. I want to follow her!" No! You wouldn't be inspired by your boss' fear. At best you'd feel sorry for her, but you wouldn't be inspired by her. You don't respect someone whose life, whose career, and whose decisions are based on fear.

I learned that from my great aunt. Auntie was never married and lived in a small town of five hundred people. The town had one hardware store, one grocery store, and five bars -- like a lot of towns in Wisconsin. Auntie owned the hardware store.

When I was a kid of six, ten, twelve years of age, I would go live with Auntie, because she let me work in the store. I loved it. I waited on the farmers, packaged up the bolts and nails, and played with the cash register. I felt grown-up.

As I got older, I began to feel sorry for Auntie. Auntie was a full-blooded Norwegian, which was not the part I felt sorry for. She spoke Norwegian. In fact everyone in town spoke Norwegian. They ate all the ethnic foods of lutefisk and lefse. What I felt sorry for was her tiny, restricted comfort zone. All her life Auntie kept saying: "I want to go to Norway. I want to see my cousin in Norway. I want to travel. I want to see the United States." The truth is, Auntie never went anywhere. Even though she had plenty of money and could have afforded to travel, even though she had no husband or kids holding her back, even though she had employees who could have watched the store, Auntie always had her excuses.

I encouraged her to go. I had gone to Norway at age 18, had hitchhiked through the country, and had met her relatives. I kept saying, "Auntie, you'd love it. Your relatives are wonderful. So welcoming. The scenery is awesome. You'd love it. Go for it."

But Auntie always had her excuses. She would say she was a single woman and had no one to take her. So I suggested she go with one of her Norwegian friends in town, but she replied that they had their husbands, their kids, and they couldn't pack up and leave. I suggested she go with a tour group, saying she wouldn't be alone then. She said, "Yeah. There are tour groups, but you never know the weirdos you meet in those groups." A couple of times I almost had her convinced to go, but she would reply, "What if the furnace would go out? What if the water pipes would freeze? Who would pick up the mail at the post office?" Excuse after excuse.

Do you know anyone like that? Someone who's always got an excuse, someone who's always saying why it won't work or why they can't take the risk? Certainly you can love people like that. I loved Auntie. We got along very well. But I'm also saying that you don't respect people like that. You feel sorry for those who waste their lives, afraid of taking a risk.

In a similar sense, if you're stuck in your comfort zone, you are losing the respect of others. You are hurting if not killing off some of the more important relationships in your life. You're paying a price you can't afford to pay.

In short, if you want more of anything in life, you'll find it outside your comfort zone. But if you refuse to take a risk ... if you refuse to leave your comfort zone ... just remember you won't get a free ride in life. It will damage your mental health and your relational health. Are you sure you want to do that?

What are two constructive risks you can and need to take? When are you going to do it?

As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has taught more than one million people in 48 states and 22 countries how to keep a positive attitude on and off the job. In his book, PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success, Dr. Zimmerman outlines the exact steps you must take to get the results you want in any situation. Go to Alan's site for more information.
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