Thursday, August 5, 2010

On Life & Taking a Risk

"Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted" -Randy Pausch

There was a time in my life when I decided to take a huge risk. The memory seems like a lifetime ago. I’m extremely, extremely risk averse so this was unlike me. And even as I sat there in the middle of a deep conversation, my mind actually said, “There’s a very high risk in what you’re about to engage in.” In fact, my mind said it more than once that night and it was crystal clear in each of those instances. I remember them distinctly. The thoughts were a flash, a mere split second, but I was too enthralled, too enraptured. But they did in fact register in my consciousness. I decided to forgo taking the safe route for once. And later on, that night or another day, somewhere inside me, I used logic to address those split-second hesitations and reason my way through the different scenarios that might take place. I finally told myself, “Yes, it’s a huge gamble. I’d rather be wrong than live with the regret of what if... If you’re going to take one risk, this is the risk worth taking.”

That big risk I banked on did not turn out the way I had hoped. Did I get a lot out of it? Yes. Did I get what I ultimately wanted out of it? No. And it’s not so much that I am mad at myself for taking that risk and that huge leap of faith, but perhaps more so that subsequent actions were made with too much optimism, even though I would mentally note each aberration that may not have been a good sign. For such a huge risk, I calculated the first major decision well. But I didn’t know how or didn’t know any better to handle and weigh the tinier pieces of information that followed, that may have been helpful in influencing following decisions. I duly noted each questionable or eyebrow-raising moment whether mentally or written. But since everything was fine and things were progressing extremely well, I believed I had no use for all the collected tid bits of random information. Perhaps the mere existence of them should have been my first clue that something could become amiss. I honestly didn’t know. Where does one draw the line when life and humanity are never perfect? The gray areas are so tricky and of course hindsight is 20/20. When is preventative action wise and correct, versus overly careful, limiting and rigid? When is something an actual mistake instead of a passage through learning, growing up, and becoming wiser?

During the whole debacle, which at its worst dragged on for a couple of weeks, someone I didn’t know well, but who knew the details of my ordeal very well actually said to me, “I wish I had that problem!” At the time, in my grumpiness and helplessness, I was almost insulted at that comment. While they did not mean to be dismissive of my predicament or feelings, and the tone was certainly not so, I brushed it aside as being less than insightful. The message of “be thankful for your problems” was one I did not want to hear.

However, it is true that the problem I was having could be viewed by others as complimentary or flattering, perhaps even an embarrassment of riches. That acquaintance could only dream to be in the position I was in, as truly miserable as I was. In looking back, I tried to see the bright side of it all, while I still grappled with the fallout.

Luckily, the damage was relatively minuscule in comparison. Although, my private hell lingered faintly like ghostly wisps of smoke long after the devastation. In reality, I didn’t lose money. I didn’t ruin my credibility. And I didn’t lose my health. I had seen worse and endured much more, though it was so long ago that this event seemed more overwhelming. I was really, really stressed out, frustrated, and upset for awhile. For two whole days, I was completely out of sorts. In the grand scheme of things, this was something I obviously needed to learn, very urgently and quickly before it was too late. The long-term ripples of my big risk actually reaped more good than bad. It was very hard to swallow since what I really wanted, I didn’t get. As much as I hated going through it, it happened for a reason and I did make that choice. This lesson has and will positively reverberate my entire lifetime; that was the sole huge consolation prize.

In trying to salvage the experience, the question I asked myself was, “HOW was it worth it?” not “Was it worth it?” or “Did I regret my decision?” In understanding HOW it was worth it, I was able to learn something about the experience. Sometimes that may take a long time. I’m sure years from now I’ll still happen upon clarity and wisdom in moments of silent reflection or when a memory is inexplicably triggered. For some time I had to search and put the pieces of the puzzle together. I understood the disappointing outcome on a logical level, but that is often not enough. After much reflection, research, and distance, I learned I wouldn’t have gotten what I wanted anyway. I’m 1000% sure it was not meant to work out although facing that reality was painful. I came to comprehend the best-case scenario was the lesson would have been a little less heart-wrenching and unexpected had I treaded lightly.

In the end, everything is at least half my fault, if not more. In Donald Trump’s first book, he always made decisions by imagining the very worst possible outcome and seeing if he could live with it. Oddly, I had always done that myself in all areas of my life and continue to do so. I did it with the same scenario mentioned above. I gave 150% of myself, I didn’t hold back, and I didn’t second-guess myself. I went all in. However, the lesson became: It’s good to take a calculated risk. I am so very proud of myself for trying to live outside my comfort zone to take a chance. I should learn to still say yes and and not rush in, jumping eagerly into a new journey. Risk big with many alert, small, slow steps and act accordingly. And most of all, try not to fear the old adage: “Experience is the worst teacher. It always gives the test first, and the lesson afterwards.”

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