Where would you be today if you had risked a little more in your past? Who would you be? How would you feel? How happy or successful might you be? Do you ever think of what would have happened if you had applied for that certain job or asked a particular person out - if you only hadn't chickened out because they "might" say "no"? Do you ever see an invention or business idea you thought of but didn't follow through on - and now wonder what would have happened if YOU had been the first one at the patent office?
I don't believe that it is helpful to look back in order to regret and wonder what could have been. I do believe, however, that it IS helpful to look back in order to realize how many opportunities we simply talk ourselves out of them, and to become more opportunity-conscious in the future, no matter what others may say or how uncomfortable we may be leaving our own status quo.
A few years back, a friend of mine taught me a great lesson in taking risks. I had two big dreams left over from my childhood. One of them was to ride horses, the other was to learn to play the piano. I fell in love with piano music in Czechoslovakia, when one of my classmates played Fur Elise by Beethoven in class. Although there always was classical music in our home, I never "got" it until that moment. From then on, I wanted to learn. We had a piano and so, much to my neighbors' dismay, I banged away on the piano day and night until I learned that one piece. I wanted to learn more but then we escaped the country. Our piano got confiscated by the communist government and we didn't have the money to get a piano in Canada. Even when there finally was a piano available, there were so many excuses. No time - I had to work. Not enough money for a teacher - there was a mortgage to pay. Most of all, I avoided the embarrassment of showing up at piano lessons in my late twenties. I figured that I was too old and that my teachers would laugh at me.
At some point, through a commitment to a success group I was part of at the time, I began taking the piano thing seriously. First, I studied on my own and eventually I got a teacher. She didn't laugh at me. In fact, she was very encouraging. After a number of months of studying with her, she suggested I should play a piece in an upcoming Kiwanis Music Festival in Vancouver. Despite being comfortable with speaking in public, the thought of playing music in public terrified me. After fretting about the concept for a few lessons, I agreed to play in the festival. My teacher picked a short Chopin waltz and we worked on it for the next four months. Finally, the day had come for me to play.
I arrived at the music hall at a local church. My heart sank when I realized that all the other festival participants came up to my waist. I was the only adult in the festival. The next oldest competitor would have been 12 years old. I felt like running out of there before things even started. I listened to child after child, as each performed their pieces. All of them knew their music. When I made it to the stage, I thought my entire body would fall apart from nervousness. When I sat down at the piano, my right hand felt calm but my left hand wouldn't stop shaking. The silence in the room was unnerving and I felt like I knew every child in the room wondered what in the world brought me there. I finally started and even began to feel somewhat comfortable. That was when I forgot the notes. I stopped and started again. I forgot the notes again. In the same spot. The examiner's loud voice penetrated the room, "Would you like your music?!?!" I swore I could hear everyone laugh nervously as I wimpered "no" and tried again. I got through most of the piece that time, although I forgot some notes again at the end. I crawled back to my seat, put my head between my hands and cried. My dream of playing music was over, as far as I was concerned. I might as well give up playing overall.
And I probably would have given up, had not I received a message from a friend after my performance. He witnessed my demise but chose to reinterpret it for me. He said, "For one thing, I wanted to let you know that your performance was like listening to a CD on a bumpy road. It was great while playing, and once in a while there was a skip in the music. Second, while you were playing, I noticed the look on some of the parents' faces. I realized that many of them were watching their children live their dreams for them. You were up there, living your own dream. That's what counts, not whether you were all perfect."
Isn't it true? Does it not matter more that we do follow our dreams, more than whether everyone else will agree with us? I have remembered my friend's words many times through the years. It doesn't mean that I am entirely excuse-free, but I do try to worry less and risk more. I "get it" more that when we try something new, nothing bad will likely happen. If we fail, our true friends will still love us and encourage us - and the strangers who may laugh at us are people who we will likely never see again. And here's the funny thing about risking: Even if we fail at what we tried, we still have gained much in the process. We learn how not to do it next time, we adjust, and we gain the confidence of a person who CAN get out of their comfort zone. Just that is irreplaceable.
Don't want to think "what if I had" in the future? What have you been avoiding because you "might" fail, because you "might" not be perfect at it the first time around, or because "they" (whoever they might be) would ridicule you for trying? Whether it is looking for a new career, going online to find a new date, trying out a new hobby, or traveling to places you have wanted to see all your life, go and start. How? Start with writing down a list of things you'd like to do while on this planet. Then pick one and go for it. The scarier the thing, the more confidence you'll get when you do it - whether or not you "succeed" at it right away!
When? No better time to start than now!
Happy risking, sunshine and smiles,
"A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd."
"I've come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy."
"Taking action is the best way to conquer fear"