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Field Report: How to Prosper Through Risk and Uncertainty

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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.

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What smart people are saying about this...

  1. Madhusudan says:

    A Very Inspiring post. Thanks

  2. mark xavier says:

    great post, Aaron. i found it especially helpful a) because i struggle with serious anxiety and it’s always good to read of folks with similar challenges doing great things; and b) i’m wrestling with starting a geurilla fitness program in my town (somewhat similar to guerilla gardening) and am definitely afraid of actually doing it and this post helped.

    thanks Aaron.

    mark xavier

    • Thanks Mark! I am glad you found the post helpful. I guess the time comes when you have to accept that anxiety will always be present to some extent and move forward regardless. I have done things when every part of me is telling me to do otherwise. I battle this a lot but it always seems to get better the more I face it and act.

      I know that when I changed my diet and lifestyle the anxiety I experienced greatly improved so I hope you have taken that into consideration. I think your guerilla fitness/gardening sounds like an awesome idea. You should do it!
      -Aaron

  3. Cara says:

    This past year one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It seems like everything I’ve done – whether it’s training for a marathon (very uncomfortable), thinking about whether my job is the right fit for me, putting myself out there into the dating world, etc. – are the everyday things that a lot of people deal with that are not always comfortable. I don’t think this feeling ever goes away, so if we can be comfortable with being uncomfortable, it’s much easier to take risks.

    Great post, thanks for sharing your story!

    • Thanks for the feedback Cara! You make a great point. I spent a lot of time waiting to feel more comfortable, waiting for the perfect time to arise to travel, get on stage etc. Truth is, it never does. As you alluded to, I guess you have to become more accustomed to functioning while feeling uncomfortable.

  4. Lynn Hess says:

    “Do not forget to start.” Best advice ever. And so often not heeded.

    The more I poke the edges of my comfort zone, the more I come to deeply believe that it’s essential to being truly alive. After so many years of searching endlessly (and fruitlessly) for “safety” and achieving things in hopes of never having to be uncomfortable again (ha!), I realize that I was completely missing the point of it all!

    Applause to you for deliberately taking risks outside your comfort zone. Seems like they helped turn you into a pretty cool person. Do you ever imagine what your life would be like (and what you would be like) if you hadn’t done those things?

    Enjoyed your article very much!

    • Glad you enjoyed this Lynn! Yeah, planning, searching, rationalizing can go on forever. It superficially satisfies our need to do something new and uncertain without actually doing it. As well, as you mentioned, a constant , steady state of comfort and safety is really an illusion. In fact, I don’t think comfort and discomfort really exist without the other. If you try to stay right in the middle, you feel empty, indifferent and discomfort will find you regardless. Life happens. When you intentionally push the edges, and do things that make you feel uncomfortable you are able to ease into a greater state of comfort afterwards. At Exist Anew we refer to this as “comfort zoning.” After you climb a mountain or exercise hard you will appreciate your opportunity to rest more than if you never leave the recliner.

      I can’t imagine what I would be like if I hadn’t started singing or gone on my hiatus from work to travel. They have definitely helped to shape who I am. I know that before I did both I was pretty convinced I could not do either. It is nice to be on the other side knowing that I can.
      -Aaron

  5. carloc01 says:

    A very good article Aaron. Helps us to remember that Risk is not just about jumping out of a plane, or climbing Mt Everest. Risk can be a daily thing, a small thing.

    After reading your article I am reminded that if we recognize risk in the small things as well, we will reap the larger rewards. And in turn embrace the bigger risks in life.

    • Right. Most people that decide to climb Mt. Everest will have some serious training before doing so. They would have climbed other mountains before, that while smaller and less difficult represented a major challenge at that point in time. Meanwhile the broader goal of climbing Everest was the ultimate risk that drove the preceding steps. They both depend on each other somewhat.

  6. Dave says:

    So you went traveling. Big f**king woop!

    • Don’t be an ass, Dave. You’ve been warned.

    • Thanks for your honesty Dave! You actually make a great point. It’s true, I did a little traveling. What’s the big deal? I realize that people take MUCH bigger risks than what I did on a regular basis. Sitting here on Memorial Day weekend especially, I can think of many in the armed forces that take risks that make what I have done look quite unremarkable. However, as I mentioned in the post, risks are relative. For me, quitting my job, selling my stuff and leaving to travel was a risk that I was very uncertain about. For my particular background and where I was in my life it was a big deal, at least to me. It was one step to be followed by some more risks to come.
      -Aaron

  7. David Wilson says:

    Risk keeps one interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Lynne Hailes says:

    Loved your post Aaron. Thanks so much for sharing :) It’s a very timely article for me for where I am at. I’m in the middle of a start up business. When I first started telling people my plans it absolutely freaked me out and immediately put me out of my comfort zone because that made it real and meant I then needed to back that up with actions and progress. As you alluded to in your article this in itself has been a very powerful motivator!!! In every instance with the business when I put myself out of my comfort zone (which is often!!) I’ve been rewarded with great results and learning’s that encourages me and confirms that I am where I am meant to be. I take your point about finding the unconventional support. While I have this, I feel there is a lot more support out there that I’ve not yet tapped into – so I’m working on that one. I can’t begin to explain the feeling and experiences that come when you back yourself and trust that what you are doing or are about to do will have a profound effect on your life and change it for the better in so many ways :)

    • Thanks for sharing that Lynne. Sounds like you are in a very exciting time! It’s nice to know that you have had some similar experiences with your project. Best of luck pushing your comfort zones!

  9. Marta says:

    Thank you for the great advise. This has been really very helpful. I’m planning to cycling around my island, which should be a 236km route and I’ve never cycled more than 12km before, but I feel more motivated now to statt training. However, it is not the distance which worries me most, but the fact that I could get lost, as I will cycle along places which I have never seen before. I feel less scared to do this now, as I have started seeing this as part of the challenge, not as part of the problem.

  10. That is a great perspective Marta! Good luck!

  11. Carolynn says:

    5. Do not forget to start.

    Highlight this and bold the letters, then cut it out, frame it on a billboard overlooking the highway at rush hour and set up strobe lights for it. As an entrepreneur and adventurer who has spent 6 years traveling the world to study martial arts, alchemy and metaphysics with some of the world’s leaders in their fields, I promise you: you will never feel ready. Your mind will throw up doubts and distractions to waylay you. If you allow your fear to run you, you will spend your life making lists and fact-gathering … actually, you may think you’re gathering facts, but you’re really gathering wool.

    It’s important to plan, of course, but there comes a point where you’ve set up your framework and, like Nike says, JUST DO IT. You’ll probably make mistakes and find yourself scared along the way, but I promise you, once you start, things will fall into place and miracles will happen. One day you’ll look back on what you did and it will seem like a piece of cake and you’ll wonder how that thing ever scared you at all.

    Then you’ll look for the next thing to accomplish and the process starts again :D

    But seriously, my friends, don’t forget to start! Just do it!

  12. [...] recently had his essay, How To Prosper Through Risk And Uncertainty  featured as a guest post on the popular website Riskology.co. It recounts some personal [...]

  13. “minimize my exposure to “anxiety provoking” situations”

    This would include almost everything in life!
    Sometimes , you just have to go for it (like you did). We may not live forever, and doing something exciting today , which could impact future career prospects, could very well be worth it for a life experience.

    And let’s face it, if you have the balls to do something different, then getting a job when necessary is much easier, than say backpacking in a foreign place.

    • Seriously Jeff! “anxiety provoking situations”…I was told I should work in “construction” and should avoid seeking a job that caused much stress by an actual doctor many years ago. Not a very accurate or respectful depiction of the field of construction or very “therapeutic” for my sake.
      It’s true. Maybe we should look at engaging in life enhancing experiences with the same sense of urgency that we look to develop our professional careers.

  14. Construction? Hah – no stress there! Too many things can happen there.

    Yes, I think we have to balance it to some degree. Chase vivid experiences that make us feel alive, but make sure our bed’s are made first!

Founded with love by Tyler Tervooren

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