A while back I was watching my favorite TV show, Joan of Arcadia. If you’ve never seen the series, I highly recommend it.
There’s a scene in which Joan is resisting God’s suggestion that she get her driver’s license. As they discuss Joan’s reluctance, it eventually comes to light that Joan’s fear of hurting is not directed at herself. She’s fearless on her own.
However, her brother was paralyzed in a car accident. Joan shares how much she is scared of hurting other people, just like what happened in that accident to her brother.
Then God says to Joan:
“Being an adult isn’t merely about risking your own wellbeing, it means risking others’—in cars, in love, in family—hurting others is always a possibility. That’s what’s difficult about being an adult: facing the harsh fact that you may hurt others even when you don’t want to.”
When we walk the path of personal transformation, we “become an adult” as the God character describes. Our actions are no longer only for ourselves. They affect the world. When we change our lives, we are putting ourselves and others at risk.
in 2009 I risked almost everything in my life and devoted my life to be of service as an online writer. Financially, this was a poor decision at the time. I filed for divorce, asked my employer to lay me off (which they did), and foreclosed on my home.
I wasn’t just risking my own livelihood. I was putting my son, former wife, and employer all at some degree of risk.
In making those decisions, I weighed the risks versus the rewards. Those decisions weren’t flippant; they were made over the course of a few years. There were many sleepless nights, deep meditations, and long inquiries with my spiritual teachers. I even gave my employer a year’s advance notice that I was leaving a comfy, low-stress six-figure Silicon Valley technical product management position.
Today I can say with absolute certainty that I am grateful for those decisions, however risky they may have been, for the rewards I have reaped. Rewards that were only possible by my willingness to be an “adult” and put myself and others at risk. I now joyfully get to write and serve for a living, and I can do it from anywhere in the world.
Though that clearly worked out well for me, that’s just the beginning of this exploration. What about love, family, and even parenting? Let's explore...
In love, we risk hurting the people we care about. It’s an inevitable consequence of getting close, being vulnerable, and sharing the deepest parts of ourselves with another human being. With so many deep-seeded subconscious issues that come up in relationships, conflict is inevitable.
Sure, we can learn tools, techniques, and do inner work to handle those conflicts with more grace, compassion, and clarity. Still, the nature of conflict is that it creates the opportunity to hurt one another.
I still recall a relationship that I ended because I was young, immature, and felt so inexperienced that it seemed inevitable I’d hurt the other person. I wanted to stop the pain before I had a chance to inflict it.
In hindsight, I realize that I was feeling insecure with low self-confidence. That’s why I was unwilling to take a safe risk with a great woman. Part of me subconsciously felt unworthy. One could say I wasn’t yet “adult” enough to put both myself and the woman at risk.
Still, if you aren’t willing to risk hurting your closest partner, then you’re both staying too small... unwilling to rock the boat… unwilling to reach for the experiences in life that will be most fulfilling to you. We must embrace our truest selves and be vulnerable if we are to step into an authentic, empowering, fulfilling relationship.
In family, we are always walking the path of risk. Our employment (or lack thereof) affects our families. The decisions we make about what to do, when to do it, where, and how to do it affect them. We may not consciously think of it as risky, yet every decision has the potential to cascade into disaster or abundance, into challenge or growth, into pain or happiness.
Take for example what religion a family might believe in. One only need look at the destruction caused in our world by people who radically identify with and/or vehemently condemn members of organized religions. Just the choice of what God to believe in, or how to believe in God, is risky. Further risk can come from taking your family to a church, mosque, or synagogue.
How about the foods we choose to bring into our home? The examples we set for those around us? The people we associate with? Every one of these elements brings an element of risk to our family.
Being a loving parent is a risk to our children. Many decisions I make for my son will affect the rest of his life. It’s inevitable as he grows up, he’ll have some (hopefully not too many!) issues with how I raised him. He’ll probably say someday, “I will NEVER do to my kids what my father did / said to me.”
Does that make me a bad father?
Not at all. I’m an incredible parent, deeply conscious about how my words and actions affect him, and always looking out for the big picture. Still, if I’m not willing to risk hurting him, I shouldn’t be a parent. I won’t be a perfect one. I am a fantastic one. Part of what enables me to be such a great parent is that I am willing to take conscious, calculated risks, for the betterment of my son’s life.
Some of those risks I already know he’ll thank me for when he’s older, and I’m grateful that I took them. Some of them have yet to come and only time will tell.
In leadership, our decisions affect others. Every time I write a blog post like this, I take a risk that I might lead you, you personally, astray.
What if my advice is bad? What if you misinterpret what I said? What if I meant one thing and accidentally wrote another? What if you totally get it, but then in communicating these ideas to somebody else they get led astray and cause harm to another? (Or even to you or your loved ones?)
I’m not perfect. I will make mistakes. Those mistakes actually put you at risk as long as you continue reading my words.
Yet I have written for fifteen years, I still write, and you still read. Together we are transforming the world. At least for today, to both you and I, the risk of me possibly hurting you is worth the reward of opening your mind and heart to new ideas. This makes it possible that, together, we can co-create the kind of world we want to live in.
The thing is, everything I wrote comes down to one simple underlying principle that makes it all very personal: Every place in your life where reluctance is holding you back, there is an opportunity to grow and embrace the risks needed so that you can step forward and create the life of your dreams.