Risk Is Not A Four-Letter Word

Trapeze artists Kia and Lindsay at Circus Smirkus
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been thinking about risk a lot these days.

My new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” was born of risk. It began as a personal essay I wrote for The New York Times, published in February 2009. I was absolutely certain that publishing it would kill my writing career, as in it I said that working retail was better than working as a journalist.

Wasn’t I torching all my bridges?

In fact, I was on CNN two days later discussing it; then on the Brian Lehrer Show and, within months, had found an agent and sold a book based on my oddest risk of all — taking a low-wage job and being willing to talk about it for publication.

I had no clear idea why I worked retail, other than — like many others — I needed steady cash. There was no Grand Plan, just needing and valuing a new job where I might re-build my shattered confidence after my Daily News debacle.

The irony?

Taking these risks has now brought me, and my work and ideas, far more attention than anything smaller and safer and more conventional I’ve also produced. I’ve spoken at a Marie-Claire staff event, keynoted a major retail conference (with another skedded this summer) and, if the stars truly align, may see my name on the small screen.

I recently took a few more risks, some big, some small:

— I cut my hair really short, not the prudent choice given my current weight. I feel so great and so liberated I also now feel a lot more motivated to shed the damn weight, instead of dutifully waiting until I am thinner to reward myself with a pretty cut.

— I met up again for the first time in decades with a few former beaux, a high school crush and the man I’d lived with in my 20s, now divorced. I wasn’t at all sure how these meetings would go, but am really glad I went to both. I’m happily partnered, and it was good to catch up with two men who meant a lot to me in earlier days, who are still funny and attractive and with whom I share some serious history, growth and memories.

— I asked a stranger on LinkedIn for help making some connections for Malled and he made a great introduction. Now I have to find the cojones to ask for the business!

— I’ll be going on a silent Buddhist retreat July 23-31, a gift from my partner. I can’t decide what freaks me out most: not working (tough for a full-time freelancer); no liquor; not talking; being surrounded by people who fervently believe in ideas different from my own. It’s all good. But a little scary!

In this relentlessly awful economy, it’s very tempting to avoid just about any risk — whether confronting a toxic friend or love relationship (I could end up alone!), dealing with a bully boss (I could get fired!) or ditching an annoying client (I could starve!)

I think it’s at times like these it’s even more essential to choose a few risks and take them.

Courage is a muscle — use it or lose it.

I like this blog post from a businesswoman who urges us all to use a little “creative chutzpah.”

As Seth Godin writes here, taking a risk can be the smartest choice we make.

Here’s a great story from the New Yorker about a Hollywood therapist who urges his patients to eat a “death cookie” — take a risk!

When did you last take a risk?

How did it turn out?

Do you regret it?

Or did it jump-start your life in some unexpected and lovely way?

18 thoughts on “Risk Is Not A Four-Letter Word

  1. Woman Wielding Words

    i found myself tearing up reading this. Have I taken risks? Yes. But I find myself trapped in a risk-less life right now, knowing that I should take some new risks to move forward. I just don’t know what they are and it is scarier not to even know what risk to try.

    1. I know that feeling all too well!

      Sounds like you need a rest…and some time to recharge…when you feel strong(er) I think risks look less risky…i.e. you can discern which are the better bets.

      Risk can be minuscule…the sweetie hates going into NYC on weekends but did it for me this Saturday, splurging on Broadway tickets for a show I have been dying to see for years, Billy Elliot. I haven’t seen my guy so happy and bowled over in a long long time….He is deeply risk-averse, but even trying one new thing turned out great…

      1. Woman Wielding Words

        How was Billy Elliot? I’ve heard it was better than the movie. I’m dying to see The Book of Mormon, but I don’t know when I will next get a chance to head to New York.

      2. Amazing!! It was a great time…terrific music, dancing, story…I have seen the film a few times so knew and loved it.

        I think it’s as good as the movie — it does make the human elements more clear; Daldry (who directed the film) also directed the show.

  2. blackwatertown

    I like that – courage is a muscle – use it.
    When did I last take a risk? Today.
    How did it turn out? Too soon to say.
    Do I regret it? I won’t however it turns out.

  3. Deborah the Closet Monster

    Courage is a muscle β€” use it or lose it.
    Love this! Heck, what am I saying? I loved this whole entry!

    On the risk front, I feel like I take a risk every time I post a very personal blog entry. There was one recent entry in particular where I sat still for several minutes wondering, “Do I really want to click ‘Post’?” Part of me didn’t, but the greater part of me did, for which I’m so glad. The peace that’s followed not only posting the entry but taking the risk of opening myself to painful memories (re: my mom’s mental illness) to write it has been profound.

    I’ve taken many risks in my life, although I feel they’ve assumed a very different form since becoming a parent. Overall, I’d have to say I feel a million times better about the risks I’ve taken than the ones I couldn’t muster the courage to take. πŸ™‚

  4. Thanks!

    The very best I’ve ever produced as a writer has consistently been when I’ve risked exposure of personal/emotional stuff….It cannot be goopy or confessional but you find it resonates so deeply for so many people who just can’t put it out there…

    I had an editor, when I was barely 20, push me to write “deeper” for a piece I was writing about what it was like to move out of home at 19. I had been attacked in my first apartment and moved; writing about it brought me to tears, but it made the story. I learned that lesson early.

  5. Hi Caitlin,

    I love this topic–near and dear to my life. Seeing one’s life clearly, for what it is and is not, is a risk. It means that you will have to DO something about it. No more denial. So I risked everything I had always thought was the right and moral way and sought divorce. I have stared down many monsters, even my own frailty, and even my own value system. Even my own life style, because don’t you think that so many women’s lives are defined by their husbands? In choosing a separate path, I have opened up myself to a myriad of possible routes, new ways of being in the world.

    I have gained, already, a renaissance of creativity! That is intoxicating . And I am receiving a second chance at so many things. A second chance with more wisdom and experience this time around—what could be more exciting to risk for than that??

    Thanks for the topic. I love people who make me think!

    1. Thanks for sharing this story.

      I confronted my ex-husband and knew the minute I did, it would end the marriage….talk about a risk…I had no job, no income, no family nearby and few friends. (No kids.) But I was so utterly miserable all the time that no “marriage” on paper was worth it. I was absolutely shattered the night he walked out. Three weeks later I had a great new boyfriend and wondered why I had wasted so many years of my life trying with the ex.

      Taking action can indeed be terrifying, as it carries consequences. But if you act from the deep conviction, after much reflection, then it’s right for you, and consequences be damned.

      It was a huge re-definition of myself to go (back) to being a single woman after being partnered for seven years. Then it was a huge adjustment to being partnered again! I think too many women DO rely on their husband fo their value or identity and worth. A dear friend told me how much nicer I became after my marriage blew up, as I came back to myself.

  6. jacquelincangro

    It can be scary to put yourself out there and jump into the unknown. What if…?
    But I decided to do something I’ve thought about for a while. In March I started my own writing center. For now I rent space by the hour and I’m offering writing techniques classes and workshops, but someday I’d like to have guest speakers, readings and maybe even retreats. It’s very small – I’m just one person and I still have my 9-5 job. Sometimes I don’t know what to do next – marketing and publicity are not my specialities, but I really enjoy teaching the classes.

  7. Had to come here, Caitlin, to read what you wrote. A friend in Phoenix who is a big fan of yours sent me after she read my latest post on pissing people off. Risk-taking pretty much comes second nature to me, but I kind of think all freelancers like us are risk-takers naturally. I have yet to get a copy of your book, though. I’ll keep looking. πŸ˜‰

  8. Three years ago I moved away from home, husband, family, and friends to take a 9-month position two states away. It was worth it. I’ve grown personally and professionally in ways that wouldn’t have been possible had I stayed put. The husband, family, and friends have been enormously supportive.

  9. Wow. Tell us more! This must have been quite the adventure…I agree that a big move like that (as long as you do have such support) is a big booster for growth and discovery.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s