As a kid I was risk averse to anything that scared me – roller coaster rides, riding my bike down steep hills, even hanging around kids who walked a more gray line around rules. I am not sure if I was this way because I was the oldest in my family or if it was just the way I was wired from birth, but it did have an impact on what. In many ways, these behavioral tendencies had positive consequences. I had wonderful friends, did not get into really any trouble and excelled in school. There was, however, a significant negative consequence of this risk aversion – I played it too safe. I played it too safe when it came to taking risks to be the best that I could be (versus taking risks that could endanger my health or safety). My risk aversion had much to do with a fear of failure.
To many, my childhood up through my high school years resembled achievement and it did in many respects. Academics, sports, extracurriculars – I worked hard, did well and had leadership positions but I still played it safe. My parents were the ones who truly helped me learn how to take risks. They encouraged me to pursue whatever it was that I wanted by giving me the emotional support to try but at the same time placing the responsibility on achieving those milestones on me. They did this with financial and personal goals. For example, when I was 15, I wanted to go on a school trip to Australia and New Zealand. They said that while they could not financially support the trip, they would support me getting to and from the jobs I would need to pay for the trip. When I wanted to change one of the sports I was playing and still make varsity, they did not tell me no. Instead they prepared me for the work I needed to do (camps, practice, training) to make the team. With a lot of hard work, I did make the team and excelled but I still held back some of my potential.
As an adult, many of my favorite life experiences are those that have come from taking these big leaps – some which did include failing forward. One of them was pursuing my goal of completing an Ironman even though I had never competed in triathlon. I had not even rode a bike or swam laps since I was a teenager. The Ironman finish was so rewarding but it was not really the finish line that taught me about risk. It was the training leading up to the finish line. It was fighting through the noise to see what was important to me. It was fighting through an injury up through race day. It was learning that I was still a really athlete so had so much more in her. It was surprisingly discovering that I was strong on the bike and actually loved speeding down hills, sometimes close to 50 mph. This did not happen, however, on day one. On my very first ride on a bike in my 30s, I crashed into my friend when I did not unclip fast enough at a red light. I am so glad that I took the risk to see what I had in me.
I often think back to my early 30s when I began taking those bigger leaps personally, professionally and financially. Why? I think it really comes down to three things:
Team: I expanded who I connected with, but I also became more selective of who was in my inner circles. The people we engage with professionally, personally and financially have incredible influence on our decisions. In order to for the experience of “failing forward” tp be a learning opportunity, there needs to be support for the growth of self esteem and confidence.
Education: My family and eventually other centers of influence in my life taught me about risk and reward. It is important that we teach and expose our youth to risk and to change the perception of failure to more of a learning opportunity.
Values and Vision: It is key that one’s values and vision forward for any goal receives attention. Reflection and investment of time and energy (and sometimes money) will support the willingness to take risk
Risk impacts so much in our lives. Without properly understanding how we have experienced risk, we can find ourselves not pursuing what makes us individually the best we can be. It can also very much impact how we look at our relationship with money which impacts so many aspects of our lives.
Next month, we will dive into risk and our relationship with money in more detail. Over the next few weeks, take some time to consider your own experience with risk. Each person has their own journey and each journey can take a new path. The important thing is that you center on what is important to you.
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Advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network®, Registered Investment Advisor.
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