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Healthy Risk

Many of us have lives that are, in some areas at least, risk-free. We may have even cultivated these risk-free lives because we think we want stress-free lives. But while stress from negative situations can be damaging, stress from confronting challenges or taking a healthy risk can be energizing and motivating. When our lives feel lackluster, it can help to ask ourselves if there is a creative risk we could take but are not taking. A little healthy risk goes a long way toward giving us a rewarding sense of aliveness.

It is important to remember that risks can take many forms. The possibilities are unlimited, yet we ourselves contain the answer to the risk we’d like to take. The answer is ours alone to define. Making art always involves risk, and the reward in artistic actions is experience and a body of work. Artists, as Agnes DeMille famously said, “take leap after leap in the dark.” When I first wanted to write songs, it felt like a great risk to sit down and begin. But, meeting my own challenge, daring to risk showing up at the piano and writing— whether it was “good” writing or not— I showed up for myself and eventually built a very large body of work. Many of my songs went on to be performed. I am now in the process of recording an album. Had I not dared to write that first song, what a different place I would be in today.

When I was little, my pony Chico could out-jump many horses. It was always a risk, taking him in a jumpers’ class. But it was a risk I learned to take and enjoy. Often, Chico emerged victorious. And if he didn’t, we still had the self-respect of having tried. I still take pride in the courage I was willing to display, arriving at the class week after week. Jumping a horse mirrors any other risk; once you aim for the jump, there’s no turning back. Making the decision and then acting on it brings a great sense of momentum and satisfaction. I still refer to risks I take in my life today as “jumps.” A day might contain many “jumps”— a live interview where I have to be “on,” a difficult phone call, a large travel agenda. But I have learned to take these “jumps,” and learned, too, that I nearly always land on my feet.

from It's Never Too Late to Begin Again