On Risk

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

I’ve been thinking a lot about risk lately, in writing and in life. These are two very different types of risk, of course, and some might question how dangerous it is to sit at a desk and pound out letters into a Word doc. (“Carpal tunnel, you say? Shoulder fatigue? Neck cramps?”)

Of course, most writers will tell you there are bigger risks at hand: of time, of sanity, and, probably the biggest unknown of all: the constant wonder of whether these words amount to anything to anyone. All writers desire an audience of some kind, whether it’s the public at large, our family, even our cat, and all have discriminating taste. We can’t control what they’ll say and think of our creative leaps. There is a great deal at risk.

It’s interesting, then, that the other type of risk I tend to take in life—traveling abroad alone for extended periods of time—feels far less risky than staring into a computer all day. In two weeks, I’m leaving for Italy, France, Spain, Scotland, and Ireland, and won’t be home for four months. And like every time I’ve been abroad before, I’m already getting comments about how BRAVE I am. “Oh, you’re a single female traveling abroad for four months to places you’ve never been without knowing anyone there? YOU’RE BRAVE!” And yet to me, the life of a solo tourist is quite…comfortable. Exhilarating, yes, but not quite as scary as it can be staring at the blinking cursor on a blank Word doc.

We’ve all heard some variation of the phrase “risk equals reward”—in our lives, our careers, our relationships. I couldn’t agree more. But I wonder how much more effective I’d be—and maybe others might be—if we stopped inching along the edge of the abyss, repeatedly telling ourselves THIS IS RISKY. If we forgot, like I so often do while traveling alone, that we are inches from plunging headfirst into a moat full of churning lava, or seconds from missing the last train in the seediest part of Dodge. Or writing something that could be exhilarating and beautiful that could remake the world into something new and magical. If we forgot ourselves and all of our expectations and belly-flopped straight into molten lava. (okay, that would be painful.) If we took a chance on our hopes and dreams without getting the magnitude all out of whack, because, yes, pursuing our dreams takes a great deal of work and risk, but I’m pretty sure there won’t be any lava to swim through. And something even greater is waiting on the other side, whether it’s Rome or that finished manuscript. And anyway, isn’t the struggle optional? Not the work or risk, of course, but the struggle?

So sail away from the safe harbor, as Mark Twain would say, whether that harbor is literal or figurative. Forget the graceful swan dive; take the plunge. (or belly-flop.) Ready? One, Two……