“Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into.” ~Henry Beecher

Friday, November 13, 2009

Risky Business

A few weeks ago, I heard rustling in the trees above me and when I looked up, I spotted a squirrel. I watched as it chomped away at the clusters of seeds hanging from a branch. I looked around and saw that several squirrels were also eating in the trees. What struck me about them was that they were not sitting safely on a stable end of a branch close to the trunk, but they were out near the tip, clinging onto the skinny end of the branch as it swayed or bounced with their every movement. This didn’t seem to bother them at all. In fact, when they had had enough to eat, they began to leap between the trees, from one skinny branch to the next. If they lost their footing, they would simply regain it and move on to the next limb. I initially thought that this seemed like risky business, but the squirrels looked highly alert, invigorated, and alive.

How many of us play it safe by hanging out near the trunk where the limbs are strong and stable and how many of us are taking risks and living life out on the skinny branches? The high wire acrobat Papa Wallenda one said, “Life is lived out on the wire, the rest is just waiting.” It’s when we’re trying something new and testing our limits that we feel the most alive and it’s the biggest risks that lead to the greatest rewards.

If you think about it, almost everything we’re doing in our lives right now was, at one time, something new we learned – a risk we took and once we figured out we liked it or it simply felt comfortable, we stuck with it. But notice how over time, many of these things we do no longer stimulate or engage us as they did when they were new. Working as a scientist, I remember what it would feel like when I was trying an experiment for the first time. I would have read the protocol several times and would have everything ready on the bench. I would be switched on and focused and my energy level would be high. My entire being would be fully engaged. But once the experiment entered my comfort zone after repeating it several times, it no longer had the same stimulatory effect. In fact, sometimes I would almost be conducting it unconsciously.

The human brain craves novelty. And the stronger it gets, the more pushing it needs to stay sharp and stimulated. Would we read the same book over and over, never picking up something new to read? Would we eat the same food all day every day? I don’t think so. These things would lose their appeal. Risk involves greater endeavors, greater challenges but also greater opportunity for growth. Of course not every risk will reap a reward. It is inevitable that we fail at some. But taking no risks at all will yield no rewards 100% of the time. I believe that if we take risks, in the end, succeed or fail, we will inevitably grow. And if we spend as much time as we can on the skinny branches we can only increase the chances of this occurring.

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