Today's musings are on the theme of risk, and as I was thinking of a title for the post, the motto of the SAS came to mind: "Who dares wins". Or maybe that should be who risks wins? The very language suggests that the SAS have a mindset where war is a game to be played. A game in which risk-takers (like the SAS) win, and everyone else is on the losing side. I would certainly prefer the SAS to be on my side if I found myself in a war!
For someone known to be a big fan of board games (local Settlers of Catan champion no less - frankly to the surprise of my family), you may be surprised to know that I've never actually played the game Risk. We even own a two player version that we've never quite got around to playing! But this seems to reinforce the stereotype that war is a game, and implicitly that maybe life is as well.
I wonder how competitive you are? Do you take more risks when playing boardgames than you would in real life? How about Monopoly? It's easy to stake plenty of money on an investment when it's only monopoly money.. different when we face tough financial decisions in "real life" though.
As I've been musing on the subject this week, I've been wondering whether it would help us live our lives better if we were more playful when it came to risk. Now I'm not advocating taking unnecessary risks with our health, our families, or our work - but I do think that there are plenty of times in our lives when we are faced with the choice of playing safe or taking a positive risk.
In my line of business I spend a lot of time assessing risk, often flood risk. This can be complicated, as flood risk can have many different sources (I won't bore you by listing them). Many of my clients would like me to say that there is NO risk of flooding, however this is never true. There is always a risk of flooding, however small, as you can never completely manage risk away. There can always be a bigger storm, or some unexpected circumstance which could lead to flooding. Whether or not risk remains is a moot point, the question is really whether the risk is something one can comfortably live with.
Risk takes on a whole new meaning when you have kids. Risks that you normally live with - plug sockets, cups of tea, crockery in cupboards, flights of stairs - all of a sudden these become life threatening issues, as our children don't have the same frame of reference or understanding to comfortably live alongside these risks. We introduce additional mitigation measures - plug socket covers, stair gates, cupboard locks, placing everything increasingly high up - to minimise the likelihood of the risk. But you can never eliminate the risk completely - that cup of tea gets put down within reach, that socket gets left open.. we still have to be on high alert as parents until our children understand some of the consequences of the risks around them.
Sadly, in many ways we live in an increasingly risk-averse and litigious society. Whether implicitly or explicitly, our culture seems to value conformity over diversity - evidenced by the incessant testing, measuring and standardisation imposed on the school system, seemingly to force as many of our children to conform to an arbitrary and increasingly meaningless standard. The truth is that we are all "fearfully and wonderfully made", unique in our potential and diverse in the passions, gifts and temperament we each possess.
There's a famous verse in Saint Paul's letter to the Romans, in the New Testament, in which we are encouraged not to "conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Romans 12:2). In a society obsessed with standardisation, the best way to stand out is to embrace who you've been made to be - all the uniqueness and "you-ness" found in the deepest part of your being.
How often have we played safe, held ourselves back, suppressed our passions because we haven't wanted to risk disapproval of friends, family, or colleagues? Perhaps we've entered careers which we know will give us a steady income, but in which we feel we are secretly an imposter, or in which we wear some kind of professional mask to hide who we really are.
And yet, is NOT being the full expression of who you were made to be worth the risk? Is it worth the risk of settling for less, knowing you have more to give, living with regrets that you played it too safe in the big decisions?
There's a strong link between how passionate you feel about something and the risks you're willing to take. After I had been going out with Kate for a little while, the love I felt for her emboldened me to take the huge risk of asking her to marry me.. and I've been delighted ever since that she said yes. I can imagine the regret I would have lived with if I'd never been brave enough to pop the question. Strangely, I was more nervous buying the engagement ring a few weeks before than actually asking the big question itself! Go figure!
I'm a big fan of TED talks, as I love ideas and I love learning new things. As with anything, some are better than others, but I watched one this week (by Richard St John) about passion which was great. He'd interviewed dozens of teenagers, and something like 80% had said their number one goal was to make money.. which in his mind was tragic, as the people that tend to be most successful are the ones who follow their passion - who essentially risk being who they're made to be rather than playing it safe and settling for less. He encourages people to follow the "zing" and not the "ka-ching".. in other words follow your heart and not your paycheck.
Now I know that this is easier said than done, and maybe for many of us it's the ability to pursue our passion in our spare time that energises us to do what we need to do to provide for our families - we're all different (and in case any colleagues are reading, I do genuinely enjoy what I do for a living!). But the message is clear - in the long run it's worth taking those positive risks and embracing the passions that define you. For me, restarting this blog and intentionally spending more time writing, making and being creative has been a deliberate choice to risk putting some of me "out there".. but I have to say that it's been so energising and life-giving that I wish I'd done it sooner. I feel more "me" as a result, and am excited at where it might lead me.
When it comes down to it, I think we should all risk being a little more playful in some of the decisions we face. It's too risky to settle for being anything less than the person God made us (and to fully embrace who we really are we need to fully embrace the God that's made us - sometimes we need a heavenly mirror to see how we're really wired).
Instead, to embrace ourselves, our passions, who we really are, and step into the perfect plans God has for our lives - now that's a risk worth taking!
(This post was written as part of the Blog Buddies group. Here are some other thoughts on the subject by . If you want to join our blog buddies group contact firstname.lastname@example.org)