Building Risk Muscles

One year ago I left a full-time job to rejoin the ranks of the self-employed. While the job provided wonderfully steady pay and health insurance, it was in no way related to my vocation as a writer, teacher and creativity coach—things I’d been doing “on the side.” And so I took the leap, not knowing exactly how, or whether, things would work out.

It’s not the first time I’ve done that.

At age 18 I left cozy Cape Cod for the streets of Philadelphia to join the freshman class at the University of Pennsylvania. It wasn’t the Ivy League cred that sold me on Penn so much as the chance to explore urban living for the first time in my life. I went to jazz clubs and nightclubs, wandered the Italian markets and Chinatown, ran up the steps of Philly’s art museum like Rocky and walked the downtown streets with glee. I felt at home in the city, and the feeling was exponentially magnified when I chose to spend my junior year in London, an experience otherwise known as The Year I Found Myself.

After college I followed some leads to New York, where I spent ten years in public broadcasting and had lots of daring adventures (not all of which are fit to print). When my work as a radio journalist ceased to inspire me, I left it to live in a yoga center nestled amid green hills. Two years later I missed the buzz of city life and headed to Boston to try and make a living as a yoga teacher. I had no jobs lined up, but I had a bed in my friend’s guest room.

The point is that I’ve taken many risks in my life to follow my desires in the direction of what promised greater fulfillment. At times I was moving toward something concrete, but more often I was simply moving away from what no longer fit. Both are valuable practices, but it’s the latter that really builds risk muscles when we dare to step off metaphorical cliffs and hope that a net will appear.

I once had a powerful dream about this. It found me making my way across tall rock formations in the Grand Canyon (I’m not even a hiker in waking life, but you know how dreams are…). At one point in the journey I came to a place where the next rock was too far away for a safe leap and I froze in fear. Suddenly, part of me split off and jumped, falling hundreds of feet to the ground—splat. As I peered down in horror, I saw a crowd gather around my fallen self. To everyone’s amazement, she/I got up, brushed off the dirt, and walked away, unbroken. Up above, the frightened but emboldened me shakily stepped forward into the air. Immediately, a kind of magic carpet appeared under my feet and transported me to the next rock, Aladdin-style. And so it went, all across the canyon.

This vivid dream came to me twelve years ago during a time of great change and uncertainty. It told me: 1) You may fall/fail in front of other people, but it won’t kill you, and 2) When you take a step forward despite your fears, help arrives. I like to tell my creative recovery students that God/Spirit/Higher Power/Universe is always ready to assist us, but we have to take the first empowering action. As the saying goes: Pray to catch the bus, and run as fast as you can.

Each time I exercise my risk muscles I grow in courage, faith and self-confidence, which are the real rewards of risk-taking. And let me be sure to say that it’s rarely comfortable to embrace the unknown. Most of my riskier life changes were accompanied by many wide-eyed “What the hell am I doing?!” moments at 3 a.m. By the light of day, if my inner convictions were stronger than my fear and anxiety, I forged ahead.

When I asked others about risks that paid off for them, I heard stories about daring to leave unhappy jobs and marriages, taking a chance on love, and “following my own path against the odds, which in some ways proved my worth, at least to myself.”  A former student who’s moved around the country to follow her dreams says, “It seems that the more something scares you, and the higher your resistance, the more you should actually take the plunge.” Another writes that, “Taking a recent trip to Europe meant emptying my bank account at a time when my work hours were being cut in half, but that trip broke me out of what I later recognized as depression and woke me up to possibilities again.”

A friend of mine echoes my own aspirations when she says, “The greatest risk that I take on a daily basis is being true to myself. We live in a culture that feels better poking, pushing, and prodding people into conformity. By being true to me I cultivate positive resources for a calmer and more joyful life experience.”

It’s been a year since I had a full-time job, and I’m still paying my bills (with, I must add, some help and health insurance from my husband’s job). I’m also much happier, and even more daring. In the end, I believe that the things we don’t try to do may haunt us more than our so-called mistakes and failures. As the poet Mary Oliver suggests, we have just one “wild and precious life” to live, and it’s not a dress rehearsal.

So go ahead, take a risk and do something that scares you a little today. I’ll be rooting for you, perhaps from somewhere over the Grand Canyon.

This essay was also published at www.JasminBalance.com/building-risk-muscles/

16 thoughts on “Building Risk Muscles

  1. Kim! This is my favorite post yet! I am on the cusp of turning dreams into reality through a bit’o’risk and this post is exactly what I needed to be reminded of in that process. I Love the Grand Canyon dream- how profound! Here’s to attracting some magic carpets when we take our leaps of faith, and sometimes being those magic carpets for each other 🙂

  2. Love this, Kim, and love the dream. Very inspiring message, and timely for me as I venture forth in my “freelance life.”

  3. Thank you, Kim for your inspiring article about risk-taking. I plan to tape one copy of your article on my refrigerator and keep another copy of this in my pocket at all thimes. Then maybe… finally…I will take the leap I know I have to take.

  4. Hi Kim,
    Our paths haven’t crossed since High School, but I have loved seeing your FB posts. How delightfully you describe risk and it’s value to all of us. A dear friend of mine studied courage and found that the people classically admired by others as “courageous” described themselves as, in fact, scared and unsure, but told stories of uncertainty faced and vulnerability experienced to come out the other site…courageous and enriched.

    I am not at all surprised at how you have managed your life given the energy, optimism, and love I remember you had all those years ago on “the Cape.”

    Warm regards,
    Moe (Luechauer) Carrick

  5. Marjie Harrison sent me a link to this post and I am so glad she did — I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and they are so applicable to where I am right now! I left an unfulfilling job last August and have been trying to figure out what comes next, having some of those 3 a.m. anxieties, and finding myself tongue-tied when friends and family ask (carefully) what the heck is going on. Think I’ll print a copy of this post to give them when they ask. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Annie – so fun to have readers “across the pond.” Congratulations (and good for you!) on taking the leap yourself. And yes, trying to explain/defend our actions to others can be scary and unsettling if they trigger our own insecurities…we have to keep some things close to the vest and be selective about our conversation partners until we’re in a steadier place, I find…
      Wishing you a lovely landing, Kim

  6. HI Kim,

    Thank you so much for this. I cannot tell you how appropriate and on point this blog is to what is going on in my life right now – in many aspects. I’m going to try to be brave and leap!

    Thanks again and I hope you are well…. 🙂
    Elissa~

  7. Kim, what a wonderful piece of writing to read on this gorgeous spring day! Thank you. My Artist Way group continues to meet, but we do miss your guidance and wise insights. Glad you are well. Best. Nancy

  8. Kim, I love reading your blog and following your path. As someone who hasn’t had a “real job” since 1989, I am constantly re-inventing what I do. It’s not always easy, but it’s an adventure.

  9. Hi Kim, This is really who you are and it is also inspiring me as I am feeling it is now time for me to be more visible in the world!!! Thank you, My Dear Dear Soul Sister!!!

  10. Inspiring as always, Kim you are a star that continues to shine bright. Your soul is pure and filled with goodness. And sharing your personal stories, dreams and life journey encourages others to step out on faith too.

  11. Monkey!
    Thanks for helping me have the courage to throw it all up in the air when my muse went mute. Still listening hard, and somewhere in here her reedy voice is getting stronger… Thanks for sharing all the ways you tune into your own true inner voice. Shooting you serious metta, and a giggle.
    Monkey

  12. Pingback: Living Fearlessly

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