The Joy in Taking Risks

There was a young married man that struggled to earn enough money to pay the living expenses for his young family. His job as a sales representative just did not pay the bills. His wife made a budget. They cut back to just the basics for living. Shopping at second hand stores. Eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for months, but it wasn’t enough. With their four-year old son and another one on the way, something had to give. His wife took odd jobs at home, to avoid daycare, but they both knew it was a matter of time before the bills would catch up with them.

The young man became depressed. He tried exercise, sports, support groups, but nothing helped. The key was still not enough income to cover the household bills.

Part of the problem was his unwillingness to leave his current job. It was comfortable. It was easy. Going to another job or another career was too scary. It was like taking a step into thin air. The fear of falling kept him stuck.

Finally, there was an opportunity that presented itself. It was cleaning windows. He hesitated to try for three reasons: First, he knew nothing about cleaning windows, Second, he felt it was beneath his status with his higher education to stoop to cleaning windows, but the biggest reason, was the windows reached 24 feet off the ground.

To help him decide he took out his wallet and looked at a picture of his wife and son, and then put it back in his pocket and told the manager he would take the job. He worked from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. cleaning the windows on a ladder. Then he drove to his day job before going back to clean windows until dark. It took him three days to clean all the windows and in the end the manager paid him.

In that instant something switched in the young man. He felt euphoric. He had done something he never did before. He completed it. He got paid, but most of all he found something he really enjoyed doing. Who would have thought, he said to himself, that washing windows would be fun.

The young man went from depression to joy almost overnight, and he stayed that way for many years. He found out through taking a risk, he moved from feelings of depression to feelings of joy.

“When we avoid risk, we court depression,” says Julia Cameron in her book Walking in This World. “Depression is emotional quicksand. Once we get stuck, it’s hard to pull free. Our struggles exhaust us and depress us further. It is easier to avoid depression than overcome it, and yes, we avoid it by taking risks.”

It’s scary especially if one is skirting with depression because of avoiding risk. It took the young depressed man years before he took a risk out of his comfort zone and depression to risk something different like window cleaning. It was a risk that pulled him out of his depression and filled him with confidence and joy.

So how do people help their depressed selves to take risks that lead to more joy?

Here are three ways to help you take more risks.

Baby Steps

There is a movie starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss called What about Bob? Where Bill Murray was so fearful and depressed about everything in life that he felt paralyzed with fear. Cocky psychologist Richard Dreyfuss tries to tell Bill Murray about “Baby Steps,” the idea of doing small actions to overcome fears or accomplish goals.

While the notion of “baby steps” disintegrated into hilarity in the movie, the philosophy is real and in Japan is known as the Kaizen, Sino-Japanese word for “improvement”. It’s philosophy is rooted in the two-thousand-year-old wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and is used as a business productivity tool as well as personal development technique.

The idea in Kaizen is explained in the book One Small Step Can Change Your Life. The idea is to lower the “fight of flight” mechanism in the brain by accomplishing small, almost insignificant movements toward a goal that over time you see significant progress toward your goal or risk. Tip: When you think the action toward a goal is small enough, think smaller.

I know a painfully shy woman who wanted to go dancing. It depressed her that she stayed every night after work. So, she decided to take small steps toward her goal of dancing. She read about for a while, she studied the different places. She talked to people that danced and finally she went to a dance hall, but didn’t dance. She stayed a short while, then left. The next week she went back and stayed longer but did not dance. Finally, she went the next week and danced a few dances. A long story short, she now invites guys to go dancing with her and she goes a lot.

Find “Your People”

Imagine being around people that talk about “apples and oranges” but you like to talk about dogs. You try and fit in with their conversations. You put one a fake self. Say and listen to topics you dislike. You feel a your neck muscles tense, but you smile and nod your head. It’s hard to find common ground where you don’t “connect,” maybe it’s a work setting, maybe it friends that you have nothing in common with anymore. Talk about depressing.

Maybe you’ve grown or maybe the dynamics of the work or social setting has changed. One woman rejoined an organization she had belonged to years ago. She found the culture of the club had changed it wasn’t what she remembered it to be. She left after a few months. She felt depressed being in that circle of “friends”.

It’s okay to accept that not everyone will “get you.” Seek out people that do connect with you. Ask someone to coffee, join or create a Meetup, talk to lots of people. Eventually, you will find yourself in conversation with someone where your shoulders relax, your neck tension leaves, you laugh and smile in conversation. The conversation moves from small talk to deeper conversations to something more meaningful.

These people can help you take risks; hold you accountable; share their experience; connect you to people that can help you.

If you are a writer, start a Shut Up & Write in your area. You to talk to a lot of people before you find the ones you can call your writer buddies that keep you honest and hold you accountable. They are ones that can help you, support you, and be there for you as you step out of your comfort zone and risk being vulnerable.

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” If those people are risk averse, chances are it will be tough to try and risk something new. If they are doers, you’re more likely to be a doer. Find “your people” that are doers.

David Burkus, another motivational speaker claims research shows social influence includes way more than just five friends. His book Friend of a Friend . . .: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career. He says we may find much more growth by connecting with former friends, associates, or friends of friends we met instead of cold calling to find new connections. Who from the past do you wish you reconnected with?

Love

A Medal of Honor recipient who spoke to an audience of 300 high school students about his courage under fire told that he was more fearful at that moment than any time in his life and the only thing that made him step out from his safe position to go save his buddies was love. “I loved those guys and it was love that pushed me to do what I did.”

Love is a powerful force. It pushes people to do stupid things but also brave things. To the young window washer take a risk to do a job he never considered, he looked at a picture of his wife and son to draw strength to push himself. To others it was to finally loving themselves enough to push pass the fear and try.

Love, don’t underestimate its power to effect positive change in one’s life. It moved a young dad to risk trying something new and brought him great joy.

Just a few ideas to encourage risk, that effects change, and brings joy.

Peace, joy and love to you.

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