“I’m not a big fan of risk just for the sake of risk.”
So says my boyfriend as I’m telling him about an idea I have for the blog. (Exciting stuff to come, so stay tuned!)
It’s a fair comment. For all the writing I do about risk-taking around here, you might be wondering what exactly is the purpose of being more risky in life? Why do I think it’s so darn important — no, essential — to be risky?
Before we go any further, let me be clear: risk-taking is not about facing your fears and living in perpetual discomfort just for the heck of it.
One of the biggest risks I ever took was quitting my job without a plan (not something I recommend). But even before I made that decision, I took a risk that I think was more important that leaving my job: I decided to (wait for it)…live alone. This might not sound like such a huge deal, but I was 28 years old at the time and I had never lived by myself. As the oldest of 4 kids, I left home to go to college where I experienced 4 glorious years of dorm life; graduated and moved back with the parents for about 6 months; moved out and had a roommate ever since.
Living alone was not something I eagerly anticipated. I mostly hate being alone. But I didn’t know enough about myself to understand why. Looking back, I had so much going on (grad school, full-time job, out-of-control spending and debt approaching unmanageable, changing relationships — a recent break-up for me and a new-to-the-scene boy for my best friend/roommate) that I couldn’t get clarity on anything. I was depressed and confused. Something had to change, but I couldn’t figure out what. If you are struggling with unmanageable debts, you can declare bankruptcy. Even if you are serving in the army, it is allowed to declare bankruptcy for military with the help of an expert bankruptcy attorney and protect your assets.
So I forced myself into a drastic change and moved into a one-bedroom apartment. Alone. It was one long, uncomfortable year. Long because at first I had so much time on my hands that I didn’t know what to do with myself. Uncomfortable because with no one else around, I had to face my inner most self and confront that person who, I painfully discovered, I didn’t like very much. There were some things I’d been avoiding. Like one of the reasons I was so unhappy: by working for a wedding magazine that published ads for plastic surgeons that said, “be your perfect self for your perfect day,” I inadvertently contributed to the very consumeristic, self-indulgent mindset I wanted to escape. Or like: I medicated myself by shopping, as if that new top was a magic pill that would fix all my problems. There’s a reason we call it “retail therapy.”
It was at the end of that year when I left my job.
So when I talk about taking risks, the point is to meet your true self so that you can be more of who you were meant to be. It’s about pushing through The Dip, if necessary. It’s about finding ways to live uninhibited — unbound by the status quo.
All that being said, here are 5 reasons why women should take more risks:
So you can…
1. …stop doing things the way they’ve always been done.
How often do we stop to examine why we do things? You always make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich the exact same way? Because that’s the way your mom always did it? This might be a silly example, but think about it — why do you obsess over making the bed a certain way? Having a pristine house? Or buying a new pair of boots every season? Why do you wear make up? Shave your legs? Because “that’s just what women do”? Or because it’s the way you’ve always done things; it’s the way everyone else does things, and you never stop to think about it? You may even have yourself convinced that you NEED to do things this way. But is it a true need, or is it a fake need?
2. …be ok setting boundaries.
Setting boundaries is risky because it requires brutal honesty with people who are closest to you. And by brutal, I mean you may need permission to piss people off — or, more accurately, make them uncomfortable by pointing out their inappropriate behavior. We often let others get so comfortable with us that we let them set the rules, because we don’t want to speak up and hurt any one’s feelings. We don’t want to put our sister or mom in her place when she insists on dragging you into her drama, or put a girlfriend in her place when she tells your kid not to do something that you’re ok with. Setting boundaries is about standing up for yourself and teaching those around you the proper way to treat you, instead of being a door mat and letting them step all over you, wiping their feet as they go.
3. …get uncomfortable and learn to be comfortable with your real self.
If I hadn’t lived alone for that year, I probably wouldn’t have left my job. I’d still be medicating myself with retail therapy, being miserable without knowing what the heck was wrong with me. Come to think of it, had I stayed on that path I’d probably be seeing a professional therapist and taking real drugs for depression. (I’ve written about my depressive tendencies before.) Nothing would have changed if I had stayed in a place where I was comfortable, surrounded by all the things that were familiar: my job, my house, my roommate, my car, my shopping addiction. But most of that was a facade that I hid behind because it was easy. It was easy to stay where I was instead of choosing the turmoil of uprooting myself. It was a facade because I successfully deceived myself into thinking that I was doing all the things I was “supposed” to do: go to college, get a job where I use my degree, buy a house. The problem is that those things don’t add up to a happily ever after. Sometimes you need the discomfort that leads to the permission you need to be comfortable with who you really are behind that facade.
4. …give yourself permission to be confident.
Once you get comfortable with your real self, the next step is to give yourself permission to be confident in that comfort. There is nothing wrong with confidence; the most successful people in the world are usually also the most confident. That’s because they have a sense of certainty — not only about where they are going in life, but also about WHO THEY ARE. Less confident folks may accuse you of arrogance. Don’t let that shake your own meager confidence in its fragile adolescence. And remember this: those who criticize you are jealous. If you think I am making this up, you should read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. In it, Pressfield writes, “If you find yourself criticizing other people, you’re probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.” And later, “The professional [artist] learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had the guts.”
5. …request feedback, and accept it gracefully.
This is a hard one, and I’m the first to admit that I don’t do this very often (just ask my boyfriend). Once you’re comfortable enough to be confident in yourself, you can start asking those around you to offer their insight on who you are as a person. It’s one thing to have unchecked confidence, where you just blow around doing whatever you want because you are so sure of yourself — THAT’S arrogance. It’s another thing to have the confidence to say, “I know this is a good idea, but I need one or two objective perspectives to help make it better.” And that’s the point of asking for feedback — look for ways to improve on something you already know is good. The risk in asking for feedback is two fold: you’re opening yourself up to hear something you may not want to hear, and you risk falling into the trap of fishing for compliments to feed your ego, or heal your insecurities. I’ve listed asking for feedback AFTER getting comfortable with yourself and giving yourself permission to be confident for a reason — you need those two things first before you can accept feedback (i.e. constructive criticism) gracefully.
Check back tomorrow for 5 more reasons why women should take more risks.