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When We Stop Taking Risks

I'm standing with my feet facing the front of the log. "Or maybe it's the back," I think. After all, it's round so it's hard to say which is the front or back.

My dad's voice breaks my train of thought, "Jason, it's now or never buddy. We were supposed to leave fifteen minutes ago."

I glance back and realize I'd been standing on the log so long a small crowd had gathered. My brother and I had been playing in the river below for a few hours; skipping rocks, swimming, and jumping off of the shorter ledges lining the banks of the river.

I'd been eyeing the log all day, but never made an attempt to jump off of it. I'd only see older kids doing it and decided I wasn't big enough. As we were leaving, I felt a pang of regret in my chest. My wild conscious popped up on my right shoulder, "You know you don't have to feel that regret. We're still here. Do it."

My safer conscious hastily appeared on the opposite shoulder, "You've been reasonable all day and NOW you wanna test the waters?" Being only seven years old, I don't give much thought to the second guy's comments and make my way to the log.

Ever the entertainer, I survey the crowd and think, "They deserve a show, more than just a jump." I'd done backflips on my cousin's trampoline before, how different could it be?

Before I can even fully process the thought, I throw my head back and tell my feet to follow as best I can. I complete most of the flip and, after what feels like a lifetime, land directly on my knees in the water below to a smattering of applause and my Dad telling my brother that Mom will NOT find out about this.

I feel elated, like I'd done the impossible and everyone is applauding my brilliant feat. From then on, I was the backflip kid.

It's been about 15 years since my last backflip off of a log. I think back to that experience now and my heart rate immediately begins to spike. I think, "How could my Dad let that happen? How deep was the water? How high was the log? What if I clipped the log with my face? What if there was someone beneath me?"

The reality is, nothing bad came of that experience. In fact, good things came of it. According to the UCLA Center for the Developing Adolescent, risk-taking at an early age is crucial in learning new things, developing skills, and supporting decision-making abilities.

We know that taking risks provides benefits, regardless of age, and yet we also know that as we age we are prone to take less risks. While there are many factors to consider like the type of risk, past experiences, and how we process rewards, we know that older adults generally look less favorably on risk-taking behaviors.

In the last 15 years, it isn't only backflips that have declined in my life. If a coffee shop doesn't have cold brew, I don't even order. If a rental car doesn't have Apple CarPlay, I get frustrated. I yearn for comfort even though I know a fuller, better life exists on the other side of consistent risk.

How often do you take risks? If it's not often, when did you stop? I imagine that answer is unique for everyone and that's probably a topic for another Two For You, but it's worth exploring.

If you find you've become a little too safe then consider following this process to adding risk back into your life.

-Reflect on your own risk-taking tendencies. Write down how often you take risks and in which areas.

-Identifying your reason for becoming risk-averse. Then create arguments for why that reason is wrong.

-Choose one area of your life that would benefit from more risk-taking.

I'd be remiss not to mention there is a difference between thrill-seeking and risk-taking. Thrill-seeking provides a rush that can lead to discontentment with normal life. Healthy risk-taking builds confidence, establishes new stories about ourselves, and eliminates regret.

Go easy at first. Start with a new coffee order, make small talk with a stranger, or wear a color you're not accustomed to. Who knows, maybe one day you'll be jumping off a log into a river.


People took more risks during and immediately following the COVID-19 Pandemic.


Take a small risk this week with your daily routine.


What are you afraid of, but know you shouldn't be?


"I don't think there's any story worth dying for, but I do think there are stories worth taking risks for." - Anthony Shadid

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