We’ve all taken a few risks in life, I’m sure. I know I have.
Perhaps you think that I’m talking about scuba diving, or maybe black diamond runs at a ski hill. Well… not exactly. Frankly, if I’m close to a body of water or a ski hill, I’m much more likely to be reading a book under an umbrella on the shore or eating a burger and fries at a cozy pub nearby. Perhaps you’re thinking about my driving – maybe I’ve got a bit of a heavy foot, pushing that pedal to the metal? Again, no. Am I talking about high-risk financial investments, or moving farther away than Alberta? No to both of those, too.
And I’m not talking about risky things that I have actually done, like brushing off stomach pains that turned out to be an appendix on the verge of bursting, or going for a picnic with an almost-complete stranger at Takakkaw Falls. Looking back, I now see the how those actions could have been slippery slopes toward death or, say, ticks.
The risky actions that I’m talking about now are things like being true to myself. Expressing myself. Sticking to my convictions. Going with my gut feelings. Loving someone. Now, that can be scary stuff, right?
There was that time I left a cheesy poem on the doorstep of a young fella I was crushing on. He never mentioned, I never mentioned it, and five days or so after my bold move, he made it pretty clear that he was not interested in pursuing me nor in me pursuing him. (Ouch!) Even so, I know that the bigger risk would’ve been to not put myself out there. I got an answer, and even though it was humiliating and devastating at the time, I have no regrets about what I did.
There was choosing to be honest at a company that didn’t value honesty. Eventually my employer figured that nudging me to lie to customers, criticizing my after-work activities, and complaining about me to other employees would make it so exhausting for me that I would wake up one morning and simply decide that I wasn’t going to go to work there that day or ever again. (Hey, his plan worked! Congratulations?!) Not surprisingly, I never felt guilty for not giving my two weeks’ notice there.
Recently I quit making an effort in a friendship after finally admitting to myself that the friendship wasn’t a two-way street and that honesty didn’t play a big role in it (no, that friendship wasn’t with my former employer). For me, it was quite a big deal — a risk of sorts — to back away from all of that, as I considered that friend to be a close one, a confidante. She and I communicated with each other several times a week, either in person or via text or email or phone call. I don’t regret my decision to back away from that relationship, but also, part of me worried a lot: What if I lose yet another friend? What if this happens to all my friendships? Will I run out of people? Yet, choosing to let go of that friendship is a risk I’m willing to take. It’s an uncomfortable thought, but I’d rather be minus a friend or two than to spend years and years more on a fair-weather friendship.
And then there’s the Handyman. For six years now, this reliable, funny, stable, calm car guy has made my world a better one. I’m a lucky, lucky gal. And on more than one occasion, people have asked — and I’ve asked myself, too — “But what about the age difference? What if he gets sick? He’s so much older than you, so what happens when you both get older?” Oh, I’ve thought about all those things, and in detail, and it hasn’t changed my mind about getting into and staying in the relationship. Relationships involve risks, no matter anyone’s age. People get cancer at any age. There’s early onset dementia, plane crashes and train crashes, aneurysms. We don’t know how long anyone will be around. We never know who is going to be the next person we visit in the hospital, or whose funeral we will attend next year or next month, or whose diaper we’ll be changing someday. There is no way to safeguard ourselves or our loved ones from all the challenging and painful things that could happen in life. Yet, “If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more,” writes Erica Jong. Yes, if you play it safe all the time, it’s quite likely you’ll end up with a life that’s stagnant, shallow, colourless. That’s not something I want.
I think of other people who’ve taken big leaps of faith, who’ve looked at all the factors involved in a fulfilling a dream, who’ve chosen to be true to themselves instead of trying to please other people; people who’ve shrugged, and said, “That’s a chance I’ll take.” I think of my friend who uprooted her life in Romania to move to Canada. I think of a co-worker who hopped on a plane to meet a lady in Kentucky. I think of all the people who get pregnant intentionally. Who come out of whatever closet they’re in, who give up jobs, who sign divorce papers, who give time and money and energy towards causes that may soon end up falling apart.
For a long time, I had a quote by C.S. Lewis in one of one my notebooks: “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal.” Years later, I came across the rest of that quote and, in very small writing, squeezed it in after the first part: “Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
My biggest fear out of all of this isn’t getting a broken heart; it’s the sense of emptiness that comes from not daring to take risks in relationships and in life. I’d rather risk embarrassment, or unrequited interest, or loss, or whatever else than to protect my heart too much.
If someone were to ask me, “Should I take up that new, somewhat dangerous sport everyone’s been talking about?” — I don’t actually know what that would be at this moment — I would reply with, “Hmm…well…I guess if that’s what you want to do, sure… Gosh, I sure wouldn’t do it, but, as the young people say, ‘You do you!’ Be super-careful, okay?”
But if someone were to ask if they should throw caution to the wind when it comes to living a life of authenticity, doing the right thing even when it’s uncomfortable, getting unstuck from familiar but unhealthy patterns, and taking risks in love? I wouldn’t hesitate to say, “Oh, definitely!”