I saw this image on a blog the other day. I read it and it felt like it slapped me in the face. It seems like such an obvious concept. We spend our days “being careful” and not exposing ourselves to risks. And why? So we can make it until we die. Is that the purpose of our lives? To keep ourselves as safe as possible until we die? Without getting too deep into matters of spirituality, that hardly seems like living. That seems more like waiting to be done.
To be honest, if that is our goal in life, I don’t think most of us are doing a very good job. Because while we seem to be happy to avoid lots of risks, especially emotional ones, we put ourselves at risk in many other ways all of the time. We drive, we fly, we don’t exercise, we eat poorly. Those are just a few things we do. Some people use drugs and alcohol or engage in risky sexual behaviors or even do extreme sports.
So if it is true that we don’t avoid all risks, why does it seem that we frequently avoid the ones that could potentially gain us the most? I’m talking about risks like feeling and exposing our emotions and being vulnerable in an effort to have meaningful, connected relationships. Or letting ourselves be visible and seen, letting our accomplishments be recognized and appreciated so we can feel love or even just get a promotion at work.
Oh, I get it at some level. Physical risks generally mean physical consequences. We assume we can heal from bruises and broken bones. Financial risks typically result in financial consequences. We lose money or possessions. We can either live without those or get them back. But emotional risks…those are different. They result in emotional consequences. And that can be painful. We don’t like “bad” emotional consequences. We often don’t know how to deal with them. When we do, we know how hard and painful it can be to work through them and heal. But the bottom line is that we can heal.
The problem with avoiding emotional risk is this. If you understand Risk & Reward you know that they almost always move in the same direction. The greater the risk the greater the potential reward. And while we can’t measure them in dollars or with a score, the emotional rewards that are associated with emotional risks are enormous. Connection, Love, Self-Worth just to name a few. And studies show unexpected physical benefits as well, including lower blood pressure and better brain functioning. There is even evidence that it results in lower frequency of flu and colds!
And if that doesn’t convince you about the value of emotional risks, maybe this story will.
If you’ve been following along you may have already spotted a paradox here. We avoid risks in life so we arrive at death safely. But the truth is, the benefits and rewards that come with those risks can actually make us arrive at death in a more healthy, fulfilled way. And potentially at an even later point in time! The next time you sense risk or feel fear, think about the rewards and not just the risks. Then ask yourself – “Do I really just want to make it safely to death?”