Tyler’s Note: This is a Riskologist Field Report by Aaron Bilodeau from Existanew. Field Reports are written by readers just like you, so be nice, enjoy the story, and take action on the lesson. To contribute your own Field Report, go here.
Convention, or at least the conventional voice in our heads, dictates that we should merely dip our toes into the proverbial cold waters of risk and uncertainty occasionally and only when conditions are right.
We are often expected to be safe, to limit risk, to let prosperity come in time and to follow a safe path. Yet, to prosper in any area of life, we really need to jump headfirst into cold waters and create and embrace challenges that seem well beyond our limits.
I’ve found in times when I’ve embraced risk and uncertainty—rather than avoid it—I’ve experienced the greatest level of both personal and professional prosperity.
There are lessons that can be learned through being uncomfortable and unsure of our decisions. I’d like to share some personal experiences, including my experience of quitting my job, getting rid of most of my possessions, and traveling to Central America to illuminate this process.
The Background Story
When I was younger, I dealt with debilitating anxiety. The term “risk-taker” was probably the complete antithesis of who I was. Under medical care, I was told to minimize my exposure to “anxiety provoking” situations. Surprisingly, I found that doing the opposite served me best. Instead of heeding the advice of others and deliberately minimizing risk, I did the opposite and became the lead singer in a “metal” band.
Getting on stage for the first time and becoming a singer was way outside of my comfort zone and terrifying for me at the time. However, as I did it, I became more comfortable on stage and I found that all the less significant challenges in my life that used to cause major anxiety became less debilitating. Kind of like a blinding light that had been dimmed.
Looking back, taking that risk by getting on stage and embracing uncertainty was a catalyst for some of the biggest developments in both my personal and professional life.
This is a lesson I carried with me but softened in time. So I guess I needed a reminder.
Time For Some Risk
A few years ago I had what most people would consider a comfortable and “successful” life. I had a managerial job, was paid well, I had a nice place to live, and maintained a pretty comfortable existence. However—and as I am sure many riskologists can relate—the thought of a perpetual 9-5 existence was just not satisfying my need to feel, well, alive.
I decided to make a serious change—to take a risk—similar to when I first got on stage and every part of my being was telling me to turn around and run.
I’d never done any extended traveling, and I always wanted to. I didn’t want a standard vacation, though; I wanted to really experience something new, a different culture, somewhere tropical, and a weeklong vacation was just not going to cut it.
I decided the only way I could really do what I needed to do was to once again immerse myself in risk and uncertainty. I got this crazy idea that I should sell all my possessions, get rid of my apartment, and head to Central America.
So that’s what I did.
Phew. It still gives me anxiety just thinking about it. It was an excruciating decision. Leave a great job? In this economy? Are you serious?
The many conversations I had with family, co-workers, and friends explaining my intentions were always challenging. Some people were supportive and excited. Many were skeptical of my decision and not so encouraging. They wondered why I would ever place my professional livelihood in such jeopardy.
Someone I worked with even told me I was committing “career suicide.”
But I did it anyway, convinced that after I left I may be condemned to live on the outskirts of society for the blasphemy that was leaving a good job and owning almost nothing.
Of course, I wasn’t condemned and my career did not die.
Traveling in a foreign country with no job and only a backpack was exhilarating and sometimes scary. It is one of those experiences that you can read about and think you’re prepared for, but when you do it, you find that reality is something far different from what you anticipated.
This situation, like getting on stage, forced me to expand my comfort zone and develop skills I never would have in a comfortable situation. I found that skills like patience, problem solving, perseverance, and creativity are best developed in the crucible of uncomfortable situations. Experiences like these breed confidence to handle new situations of risk and uncertainty, as they will inevitably continue to arise.
The refinement of these skills was integral when I returned to “reality” about a year later and needed to look for work. When I went on interviews, I thought that people might view my decision to leave to travel with suspicion; I was wrong. Instead, people were actually intrigued by my story and seemed to applaud the valor it took to take such a risk.
People often expressed the desire to do something similar.
Surprisingly, I received job offers that I never anticipated and one that was actually a level of advancement compared to the one I left before traveling. My travel experience seemed to add certain intangibles that actually helped me get job offers rather than inhibit my chances.
The personal qualities I developed and refined while traveling, similar to those I developed on stage, proved to be transferable.
Five Lessons For Prospering Through Embracing Risk And Uncertainty
Through my experiences there are five things that stand out as essential to prospering through risk and uncertainty. Here they are:
1. Do something that scares you.
Commit to something that’s well out of your comfort zone. If it does not legitimately scare you, then keep looking. You will then have created your own training program in risk and uncertainty.
Any larger venture requires smaller steps of planning which usually involve a level of risk and uncertainty in and of themselves. You’ll be forced to tell others of your intentions, answer questions, research, and plan in preparation for your big risk. These actions will all help you deal with uncertainty through gradual experience.
2. Do not think of uncertainty and prosperity as mutually exclusive.
When I have taken risks and been very uncertain about what I was doing, I sometimes felt as though I was sabotaging my chances of success in other areas of life. Yeah, this trip to Central America was fun, but I might be screwed when I have to get a job.
I learned you have to let that go and realize that risk can be used so that it is not, in fact, a detriment, but rather an asset to anything you will do in the future. Think of your risks as personal selling points and learn how to take your lessons and make yourself better in different areas of your life.
3. If you are planning on doing something unconventional, find some unconventional support.
I know I could not have taken the bigger risks in my life without the help of people that “got it.” Whether it be people you know, books, or websites like Riskology.co, recruit people and resources that educate and inspire you. When you are in the midst of fear and uncertainty, you will really need them.
4. Define risk and prosperity for yourself.
It is important to note that both risk and prosperity are subjective and should be self-defined. Our experiences and challenges are all relative; what seems like a huge risk to one person might be no big deal to another.
It’s the same way with prosperity. Who else can measure this but you? Don’t be disappointed if you feel like your risks and prosperities don’t match up with someone else’s. Define what risk and prosperity is for yourself and measure your successes accordingly.
5. Do not forget to start.
I may be the master of analysis paralysis, and I know that the more you research and think about what to do, the less likely it is you will do it. Tell one person your plan to do something that scares you, today. Even if you don’t have the details worked out, that’s okay. You will have started the process, and that is what is critical.
Hopefully this gave you some ideas on prospering through risk and uncertainty. I have realized that functioning through risk and uncertainty is a skill that quickly deteriorates, so make sure to incorporate some risk in your life soon! I am applying these lessons myself as I have started a new project as writer and convention questioning guide.
And I am as uncertain as ever.
Best of luck in your own ventures.
Aaron Bilodeau is a writer, personal trainer, and co-creator of existanew.com, a project that challenges conventional notions on how to foster health and live. Combining elements of ancestral health, philosophy, and physical training we seek to inspire, educate and provide training for those committed to living self-defined lives.