Taking Risks

Are you afraid to take chances? Are you afraid to step outside the normal, well-trod path that’s been declared “safe” by parents, friends, and pretty much all of society? Afraid to take a risk on a career or a life choice that makes you happy… but one you might possibly fail at?

Risks are everywhere.

Everywhere.

When I take a step back and look at my own life, I’m amazed at all the risks I’m taking. In my choice as a professional fiction writer, Sean and my decision to homeschool our children in a child-led learning approach instead of the traditional school system, even in our choice to follow Kate’s lead and trust in her own, unique, language development.

Each of those decisions, in one way or another, are risks.

They’re risks because we don’t know how they’ll turn out. We can’t look at the people who’ve gone before us and know the outcome (but, truth be told, even when you stay on the “safe” path there’s no guarantee it’ll all work out… especially as you expected). But when you try something different, when you do something so outside the norm, it feels like there’s this extra pressure on you. This extra stress that’s ready to attack you, hold you down, and keep you from taking a chance.

Or, from continuing to follow through with that chance and just bail out.

It’s so easy to give into that fear. So easy because there are no assurances; there’s not even the illusion of assurances.

I mean, sure, we have our feelings, our gut sense that all choices are going to work out. And even if they don’t work out in the way we expect, we still have the ability to adjust and change to suit the new situation.

But, we don’t know it will be okay.

Not for sure, anyway.

And all those risks I mentioned earlier? My fiction career, homeschooling, Kate’s language path? Those are all Big Deal Risks. Risks that are tied not only to my happiness as a person, but to my children and their own happiness and long-term well-being.

But, and this is important here, the risks are actually mitigated. I mean, no I can’t break out some percentage or average of success versus failure (Sean’s the numbers-guy in the family, anyway), but I can say with certainty the risks are minor. Why? Because I took the initiative and educated myself. I’ve researched, met with others who are on these different paths, thought and discussed the choices as a family, tried to see what our future might look like.

And then, we came to our decisions, we came to those “risks.”

In terms of our alternative to public schooling, I found myself books from experts of all walks of life, one a psychologist, many others just moms who’ve succeeded and come out the other end with their grown, adult children, and yet another resource was a native, tribal elder teaching hardcore survivalists out in Wisconsin (not to mention the dozens of homeschooling families and a local conference I’ve already connected with).

Different experts. Different walks of life. Each talking about the same thing: trust in your children, trust in how they learn and how they actually do love to learn. And that’s encouraging to me, enough to give this a shot and see what happens.

But, if I mention our homeschool choice to friends or even passing strangers, they have their own opinions and they (often) see this as a huge risk.

A gamble on my kids’ future.

I don’t agree with that assessment. For one I’ve gone and done a butt-load of learning (in fact, still am), but I especially don’t agree when I can see the growth and learning already taking place in Kate. Just watching her playing and being a little kid and doing stuff that just naturally comes to three-year-olds, late-talking or not, all the learning and the curiosity is right there. Her desire to play with other kids and learn from them, kids of all ages, and even much older adults.

But to get even that far, I had to take a risk. I had to build a new awareness of Kate, and then, I had to trust in her.

Trust.

In my three-year-old who doesn’t even talk.

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Most people would call me crazy. You might even think that as you’re reading this, and that’s okay. I mean, everyone has a right to their opinion and their beliefs – just know that this one we made, as a family, didn’t come lightly. And even though I do trust in Kate (or, am still learning in many cases) that doesn’t mean she gets to run wild and rush off into traffic (here comes in that awareness I was talking about). Instead I’m giving her the lead, and as needed, to teach and guide her from there (like don’t run into the street even if it looks chill).

I’ve also seen this idea, of taking risks and trusting in the outcome, from the other side… not just as a parent, but as an entrepreneur and even a fiction writer.

First off, being an entrepreneur, of any size, shape, or color, means RISK. I mean, serious risk. If you think you want to start your own company, be your own boss in whatever field you choose, you better have the chops to take risks. And be okay with the bumps along the way. Or, straight-up, nose-dive failures.

Being an entrepreneur means stepping off the beaten path.

You might fail.

You probably will.

The difference is in how you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, learn from those mistakes, and keep going. One day, Sean might want to start his own game company, be his own boss and make the kinds of games he likes, but he gets that it’s a risk. Hence the “one day” part… when our kids are grown and we’re ready to handle an extra dose of uncertainty and constant change. He also knows that anyone he partners with has to be prepared for those risks, partners that need to be okay with the idea of trying and failing and trying again.

Not everyone is cut out for that kind of life, and that’s okay too.

And for others, it’s a gradual process, sort of like how I’m learning to trust in my kids and their own learning.

Heck, all I need to do is look at my life to see the risks I’ve taken and the ones I let slip by (whether on purpose, or not). I mean, it was many years before I was ready to take the plunge, quit my day job, and be a fulltime writer. Even though we had Sean’s income supporting us, it was still the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. When we decided to move to Seattle and then back down again to Los Angeles, it was scary. In some ways we were ready to make this happen and in others, there was a great deal of fear and uncertainly.

Well, there’s always uncertainty. And then there’s that little, fearful voice asking, “Am I making the right choice?”

But the cool thing about taking risks is even if you do take one and it doesn’t work out, you’re already on a different path with a different set of choices. Choices that you wouldn’t have if you hadn’t take the first risk.

You have new opportunities because you stepped off the beaten path.

I think that’s one reason why risks don’t scare me as much as they do other people (at least, so I’ve found). First off, I’m really not a leap-first kinda gal. I really do take my time to reach a decision, and when I do, I’m all-in. I might still be scared and nervous, like when I decided to quit the day job, but there was no hesitation when I answered that nagging voice, “Is this the right choice?”

The answer was definitively, “Yes.”

Life really is about risks.

And if you want to be a fiction writer?

Oh, yeah. Risks. Everywhere.

A risk in trusting yourself, that you will continue to improve with each story, that you will one day make a living if you just keep at it, keep striving, keep learning. But even in your stories there must be risk….

Your stories need to be different and unique. They need to be stories that come from you and that no one else can write.

Trying something new, something different?

You betcha, that’s a risk.

Whenever I attend an Oregon Coast workshop, especially the Anthology one, I see this first hand. Every time. A room of 50 professional, amazing writers, but it’s the stories that are different, that connect, that try something outside the box, that sell.

Those are always the stories that weren’t the “low-hanging fruit” ideas (you know, the first idea or few you come up with and it turns out another 10 writers had the exact same idea). The stories that sold were the ones that didn’t fit in a box, that were unique and could only come from that writer and their own unique voice.

Heck, this is the exact same message being said by the superstar coaches on The Voice. And they continue to say it, again and again, season after season.

Be different.

Be unique.

Take risks.

I’m doing my best to incorporate this into my life, into my writing, and into the choices I’m making as a parent. Even choosing to write despite having my very young kids (and still zero sleep), is a risk. But I also know it’s the right choice.

There will be mistakes and failures along the way. There will be stories that didn’t work because my brain was too distracted being a mom (and the jury’s still out on the online writing workshop I’m taking right now). But still, it feels right.

And at the end of the day, this is what matters most. For me, “feeling right” means happiness. It means my personal compass is pointing in the right direction.

Even if I don’t know where I will end up.

Even if I don’t know where we’ll be in five years, three, or even Kate and her talking next month.

That’s all okay because we’re continuing to learn, continuing to find our path as a family, and as a family, continuing to take risks.

And that’s just part of life isn’t it?

Honestly, I think it’s a good path to be on. It’s mine, and no one else’s.

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