1300 228 042 info@joe-ringer.com
Select Page

When I reflect on my childhood, I recall many choices that I wouldn’t make now. Can you relate?

As we learn and develop into mature adults, we establish a deeper understanding of consequences and responsibility. These critical tools help us make more informed choices. However, our “logic” and desire for security can also hold us back. 

Risks are an inevitable part of growth and change. Whether you consider a new business venture, a new relationship, or following your dreams of traveling the world, you always face risks. All of this caused me to think about the difference between taking a risk and being foolish.

For instance, many people live for the adrenaline of gambling. It doesn’t matter what they have in their pocket or what’s on the line—it’s all about the game for them. The “risk” of losing or winning it all. While they do run the possibility of “hitting it big,” they also run the risk of losing money, possessions, and even relationships. The risk of the consequences greatly outweighs the reward. 

But in other instances, the reward may greatly outweigh the risk. For example, when you go on a first date with someone, you run the risk of awkwardness, embarrassment, or the relationship not working out. However, you also face a possibility that you may have a great time—or even find “the one.” 

Anything worth having coexists with risk. It is impossible to have one without the other, but what makes something worth the risk? In some cases, risk occurs with no apparent reward, or simply isn’t worth the reward. People aptly call this “foolish.” But how do you know if you’re “taking a risk” or just being foolish? 

Taking a Train to Nowhere 

When thinking about risks, I was reminded of a story from my first years of secondary school. In the town I grew up in, coal mines required trains to transport goods back and forth. Part of the railroad ran through a tunnel and the trains often traveled through. 

This area was obviously restricted, along with the rest of the railroad tracks. But as foolish 13-year-old boys do, we frequently found ourselves playing on the tracks. One game we used to play (that I don’t encourage) would probably give any parent a heart attack. 

We would take our bikes to one end of the tracks and race through the tunnel to see if we could get through before a train arrived. It was the hair-raising, heart-racing, blood-pumping kind of stuff most teenage boys do… with no apparent reward.

Think about it: If we make it, we gain nothing except an adrenaline boost. If we don’t make it… we become a tragedy on the national news.

To me, this illustrates the stupidity of youth. Thankfully, no one ever got hurt, but we were racing against the odds. At best, we could say we did it. Worst case scenario, we couldn’t say anything at all. This is the kind of “risk-taking” that you hope most people grow out of, but many adults don’t. And then these adults begin leading in the world of business.

However, in some circumstances, taking risks can be beneficial. Sometimes you have to quit your 9-5 in order to pursue your dream of starting your own company. You may have to risk rejection to meet the love of your life. It’s possible that dropping out of school to become a comedian might be your best decision.

There’s a difference between being foolish and taking calculated risks. Unfortunately, that line can be blurry. So how do you know if you’re risking it for the biscuit or playing with fire? 

How to be a Calculated Risk Taker 

To lead yourself, your family, your department, or even your organization in seasons of change requires the ability to assess risk and reward. Risk isn’t bad in itself—it’s completely unavoidable if you think about it. The wise leader, therefore, takes the right risks at the right time.

So, weigh risk vs. reward. Will you gain something more valuable from your decision than you have potential to lose? For 13-year-old Joe, the “thrill” of racing through the tunnels didn’t outweigh the value of my life, and therefore made it a foolish risk. This example might be a bit extreme, but it’s a great scale to follow when considering any risky endeavor. 

Is taking a promotion at work worth getting less time with your family? Is starting a new business worth potentially failing? Is gambling all of your money worth losing your house, family, and reputation? Whatever you consider doing, evaluate your potential losses. I don’t want to encourage making decisions out of fear, but to consider the consequences your actions may have before you act on them. 

Another important tool to use when determining if something is “worth the risk” is to assess your “shoulds.” Are you taking the job because you “should” or because you want to? Are you considering starting your own practice because you “should” or because it’s your dream? We often allow outside opinions and societal standards to convince us that we “should” do something. However, just because society or your friends think you “should” doesn’t mean it’s the best option for you or your family. 

Along with that, be mindful of your “why.” If you take a risk just for recognition or acceptance from someone else, the risk will never be worth it. Whatever you strive for has to be deeply satisfying to you. What outcome will make you the most proud? What do you want your life to look like? For life-changing risks, consider your goals and how this brings you closer to achieving them. 

Another important part of calculated risk taking is to have a plan. If you want to quit your corporate job and pursue the arts, consider how you’re going to do it before you act. Do you have enough money saved to cushion you for a while? Do you already have paid gigs lined up? How much time do you need to dedicate to your practice per day? Are there people you need to contact to get the ball rolling? 

Make a calculated plan to keep you on the right path and to help you avoid any of the major risks you might be ensuing. The most surefire way to resist any risk you flirt with is to prepare for it. Consider all possibilities and whatever you need to do to overcome them. 

It’s scary to take a leap of faith. I urge you to weigh these leaps as calculated or foolish before jumping head first. Fortunately, most failures don’t signify the end. As you grow through experiences, you’ll develop a deeper well of knowledge and intuition to guide you through daunting decisions.