Risky Business

Business challenge

I have twin grandsons who have confounded their teachers and sometimes even family members with their almost identical looks. When they were babies my daughter had to always dress one of them in blue just to be able to quickly tell them apart. Over time their individuality became more and more apparent, particularly in their personalities. One of them is daring to the point of taking risks that might cause most of us to pause while the other is far more cautious. Life can be a rather risky business and each of us chooses different degrees and ways of taking chances. Being courageous does not always mean flirting with danger. Sometimes it simply requires a willingness to push ourselves to do things that frighten us or seem impossibly difficult. In that regard both of the twins are willing to engage in the risky business of failing while pursuing a goal.

Our society today is marked by competitiveness. We rank people beginning in their childhood. We place tiny babies into quartiles based on size. We note dates when they achieve certain physical and mental milestones. We begin testing them for this or that from their early years. Our efforts are intended to derive useful data that may assist in keeping them healthy but all too often our rankings have the unintended consequence of unfavorable comparison. We ferret out the gifted and the special needs children from the general population and begin the process of sending the message that we are often defined by our perceived level of intelligence. We may not mean to do so but we subconsciously tell our young that comparisons with others are important.

Over time our ways of doing things create more and more problems. Our children become acutely aware of who learns the most easily and who struggles. Everything evolves into a kind of contest to determine who is the biggest, fastest, smartest, prettiest, most likable. As humans we all too often strive not so much for the joy of learning or achieving some new skill but in a kind of perennial competition to prove our worth. It can be maddening to the point of causing us to feel insecure and at worst even unworthy. Many shut by dropping out of the race, refusing to take risks of any kind lest they be deemed losers. They quietly hide away, often unhappy with themselves and  angry at the world.

It would be wonderful if we were able to begin the process of development by focusing on self growth. The message we might send to our young is that if there is to be any form of competition it should be in that of continually improving by attempting to become our very best. Contrary to the wisdom of Yoda we might all aspire to a credo of trying many things without fear of failure. The best performances and innovations the world has ever seen often began with mistakes. Those willing to take the risk of  rejection again and again are likely to eventually overcome the challenges that befall them.

The most important message that we should give to all people is that the process of growing better should be couched in self care and improvement, not rankings with others. In this life we will always find someone who does things better than we do. If our measure of happiness and success is based on how we compare to others we are doomed to a life of frustration in which someone will always manage to best us. Contentment comes instead from a willingness to work hard to be just a tiny bit better than we may have been before. It means learning for the joy of discovering new ideas or developing new skills. It means walking a few more steps or lifting a bit more weight. Mostly it means understanding that each of us has unique talents and purposes that should be cultivated at our own individual paces. 

As adults it is important that we not unconsciously teach our young to fear taking risks because they know that we are continually judging and ranking them. We need to help them focus on opportunities to relearn, redo, retry until they reach a point of feeling confident of their mastery of knowledge and skills. It should not matter that one child completes a task quickly and another takes longer to achieve. The goal is the same but instead we sometimes leave so many youngsters behind to wonder about their worth. We reward and adore those with natural talents but rarely stop to consider that with a bit of time and effort we might help develop those who require just a bit more encouragement. Think of the power that we might unleash if we were willing to reconsider our rankings and our systems of scoring and comparing and instead kept a personal growth chart for each person detailing their success in increments great or small.

I suspect that we humans might become more and more likely to take risks if we were certain that nobody would laugh at us or think ill of us if our efforts proved disastrous. How glorious it would be to have a worldwide willingness to see our attempts as ways of learning and making slight adjustments that slowly lead us to success. Imagine our world cheering on each person willing to try things instead of making fun of them when they fail. How great might it be to be told what we did right in our efforts and then shown how to fix the things that were not quite how they needed to be. I suspect that we would discover so much untapped talent and most certainly would eliminate some of the unhappiness that so dominates societies today. Best of all risky behavior might not be so risky at all.


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