I have come to the conclusion that there is often more wisdom in taking risks than in playing it safe. I didn’t arrive at this belief by scouring research papers and reading self-help books, though they’ve definitely reinforced the message. I first believed this statement because of a quote from a new school Italian man born about 500 years ago.
Let me explain…
When I was in undergrad, I had the incomparable opportunity to spend a summer in Florence, Italy – the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. It was the first time I was away from home for more than 2 weeks, and it was my first trip abroad. (Note: When you live in Michigan, Canada does NOT count.)
When I came home from Italy, I was a different person (in a good way). Not only could I talk intelligently about romanesque architecture and 15th century art, but I was re-energized about culture, life, and the power of the human mind.
The Italian translation of renaissance – or rinascimento – means “rebirth.” And in the heartland of the Italian renaissance, I experienced a sort of rebirth of my own. Gone was the conservative, slightly narrow-minded, grade obsessed student that I used to be. That caterpillar eventually blossomed into an eclectic, sassy, cultural cosmopolitan.
While exploring humanism in the illustrious halls of the Uffizi and the Accademia, I came across an Italian maxim that really spoke to me. A thought that explored a conservative safe approach to life, and found it wanting.
It is an old saying that all wise men are timid, because they know all the dangers and therefore have cause to be afraid. I think this saying is wrong. Anyone who judges a danger to be greater than it is ought not to be called a wise man. I would call wise the man who knows the extent of a danger and fears it only as much as he should. A brave man, then, ought sooner to be called wise than a timid man. Assuming that both see matters clearly, the difference between them lies in that the timid man takes into account all the danger he recognizes and supposes the worst; whereas the brave man, though he too recognizes them all, considers that some can be avoided by human industry and that some will disappear by chance. He will not let himself be abashed by them all, but will embark on his course with the knowledge and hope that not everything that can happen need happen.
-Francesco Guicciardini, Ricordi
I love that. Risks should not be feared any more than is warranted. Though these so called “brave men” acknowledge the threats and dangers are inherent in risk taking, they are optimists who believe that man can mitigate some of those dangers and that others will disappear by chance.
Now think about yourself: your life, your career, your passions. Are you taking risks? Are you willing to take a chance knowing that you, as a creative and resourceful human being, can remove a lot of the road blocks that are holding you back in the first place? Are you?
My college theatre professor, Rob Roznowski, confronted me once after a very traditional and “safe” reading of a monolog.
“You’re playing it safe,” he said. “I can tell you’ve planned the whole thing out, and you’re in control. Take a risk! Take chances! The worst thing that happens is that you make me feel something.”
And he was right! He was SO right!
Risk taking is not always perfect, but it’s usually worth it. We will make mistakes. That is a given. But really, what is the worse that can happen? We might learn something?
You might decide to confront a colleague about something they’re doing that’s holding your team back from succeeding. They might not like being confronted, but they also might respect you for it. You might start your own business, and then drop it after year one like I did. You can still make extra money for that first year, and you can also learn transferable skills that will land you another job. And maybe there is a skill you would love to learn, but you’re afraid of what people might think. Unless you give it a try, you’ll never know if you can sing like Pavarotti or draw like Da Vinci. Of course, you might sing like Carol Channing or paint like a five year old finger painter, but you’ll never know unless you take a chance!
So… Are you going to be a wise risk taker or a timid “wise man”?