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Are you a risk-taker? Or do you always take the safe, easy way out? Do you stay in your comfortable but dull job because going on job interviews is just too scary?

The Fear

Most of us fear failure, but the fear of success, of surpassing our parents, of separating from our past, of developing a new and stronger self-image can be pretty scary, too. And any change, even a positive one, means we must let go of the past and mourn the loss before we can embrace the future.

There are a million reasons not to change or do anything that feels scary. But at some point, letting things stay the way they are feels smothering and constricting. And in most cases, the pain of not reaching for the sky eventually becomes unbearable.

Types of Risks

There are several categories of risks, and each has specific associated fears:

  • Intellectual, creative or career-related risks, such as going back to school, learning a new skill, or accepting a job promotion—These bring up fears of failure, fears of having the world discover your inadequacies ("the imposter syndrome"), and/or fears of humiliation.
  • Emotional or interpersonal risks, like answering an online personal ad, leaving an unsatisfying relationship, confronting someone who has hurt your feelings, or trying to deepen the level of intimacy in an existing relationship—These can make us feel vulnerable and needy, stirring up fears of dependency. Feeling exposed, we worry about rejection and that letting others see us for who we really are will drive them away.
  • Physical risks, such as learning to scuba dive, going bungee jumping, or having a baby—These can bring up fears of injury, pain, or even death. We worry that we are not agile enough or that we lack stamina and endurance.

Many new experiences incorporate a medley of intellectual, emotional, and financial risks. And determining what we are really afraid of is an essential step in the process of readying ourselves to make a move.

Assessing Your Risk-taking Style

In understanding your risk-taking style, it is important to consider a number of different factors.

Temperament

Think about your general temperament:

  • Are you cautious or daring?
  • Do you welcome change or cling to the familiar?
  • Are you a careless, impulsive risk taker?
  • Are you overly cautious, or are you relatively balanced and moderate?

Decision-making

Examine how you decide which risks to take:

  • Do you like to consider a number of different possibilities or do you prefer to come up with one or two options and choose between them?
  • Do you trust your feelings or rule them out as irrelevant or distracting?
  • Do you mull over decisions for weeks or months or do you think about them for a day or two and then take the plunge?

Optimism vs. Pessimism

Consider your overall sense of optimism or pessimism:

  • Do you believe that most things you do generally turn out well? Or, do you take a risk with a sense of dread, feeling that dire consequences could follow?
  • Are you excited about taking a risk or does the anxiety become so overwhelming that there is no room for exhilaration?

Knowing your risk-taking style allows you to proceed comfortably, at your own pace, as you move through the necessary getting-ready steps.

Stages in the Risk-taking Process

The process of deciding to take a risk is quite complex. Following a series of orderly steps gives you a feeling of control, hopefully making your risk-taking experience a positive one.

  • Discovering —The first step in the process is to become aware of your dissatisfaction with your current situation. This is followed by the recognition of the wish and the need to make changes.
  • Questioning—The second step is ambivalence, should I or shouldn't I? Uncertainty and anxiety can be minimized by gathering information and seeking support from others.
  • Planning—Reducing the scale of the risk by restructuring it is often useful. For example, rather than quitting your job to freelance full-time, can you work part-time so you will have a steady income for a while? It is also good to reduce the irreversibility of the proposed risk by laying down safety nets. Thinking about possible outcomes and having a set of back-up plans lessens the anxiety.
  • Envisioning—Try not to envision the worst. All-or-nothing thinking can leave you unable to move forward because it is so much easier to stay in your little cocoon—safe, secure, and stuck. This same fear can also confuse the issues in your mind and that confusion then becomes an excuse for not taking a leap of faith. Once you make the decision to go ahead and take a particular risk let it incubate for a while. Envision yourself in your new situation and see what feelings come up.
  • Making it happen—Then, it's time to "do it." Get married, quit your job, buy your plane ticket, sign up for that course in computer graphics. When it's done, try to enjoy the experience, even if things do not work out the way you thought they would.

The path you've chosen may meander in surprisingly unexpected ways, but at least you're moving.

RESOURCES:

American Psychological Association
http://www.apa.org/

Mental Health America
http://www.nmha.org/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Mental Health Association
http://www.cmha.ca/

Canadian Psychological Association
http://www.cpa.ca/

References:

The Power of Risk website. Available at: http://www.takerisks.com/. Accessed June 9, 2009.

Sulloway J. Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives. New York, NY: Pantheon Books; 1996.

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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