Perhaps more than any other time in recent memory, we became attuned to risk in our daily lives because of the pandemic. Should we wear a mask? Should we go outside? Should we let anyone into our homes? Everyday activities that we once took for granted – going to work, school or the grocery store – suddenly were being viewed through a different lens.
Fortunately, the vaccinations are working and more people are returning to work and to school. But after a year of trying to stay safe, many people are finding it difficult to abandon what I believe is an unhealthy attitude: a fear of risk.
I believe that when we only seek comfort and safety, we cannot grow. Challenging ourselves – and even making mistakes – is what helps us to learn and achieve greater rewards in this life.
Think of it this way: No athlete becomes faster or stronger without pushing himself or herself to lift heavier weights, run farther or jump higher. The same is true of life. We’re not intended to live in the comfort zone but in the growth zone. In the words of businessman Frederick Wilcox, “Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”
In truth, we face risks all the time and not just because of a pandemic. For example, doctors explore risks with their patients, financial advisors discuss risks with clients and each day we make decisions about the risk of crossing the street or making certain food choices. The decisions we make are all a reflection of our own risk tolerance.
Humans crave certainty and security but there is little growth without risk. A baby who is learning how to walk and falls takes a risk by getting up and taking another step. We know that we can only learn when we risk failure. But at what price? What are the dangers if we fail? How do we learn more from our mistakes?
Our emergence in the months ahead from the pandemic offers an opportunity to reflect on how we can better manage risk in our lives, fortify ourselves for challenges and diminish anxiety and fear. Too often, we get caught up in irrational fears that hold us back from realizing our potential and living life to the fullest. We may miss opportunities because we worry too much about what people think, we are afraid of failing or we may be too nervous to jump in the water and swim.
Our challenge of managing risks is an ancient one. In the Talmud, the repository of life wisdom, it’s explained that when David writes in Psalms, “the Lord preserves the simple,” it represents a principle of Jewish law that permits people to assume various low-level risks and dangers. Faith and trust are integral to our lives – we cannot control everything. The topic is complex, but it affirms that life at its heart involves risk and is part of being human.
What are some strategies for limiting fear in your life, managing risk, seizing opportunities and forging ahead every day with faith? You can:
- Pause for reflection: Reverse engineer your day, your week and your life. How do you want today or this week to be remembered? Turn off social media for an hour a day at least to create sacred space. Focus on your goal and you will develop the tenacity and strength to achieve your aspirations.
- Know that courage counts: Identity moments in your life when you’ve called on your courage to move ahead. Such times will fortify your faith in yourself and help move you forward in moments of uncertainty. You have a track record. Build on it!
- Buddy up: There is no substitute for finding a friend, coach or mentor who can be your cheerleader and confidant. Who will be the wind beneath your wings? Perhaps it is a spiritual guide who can teach you the tools to find strength and optimism deep inside and help you reach your potential.
- Fill your mind with hope: Read the Bible, Psalms, and other books that infuse you with strength and perspective. Rather than be mired in the ebb and flow of daily life, find words, podcasts and teachings that will inspire you to grow.
- Give and grow: Opportunities for impact are everywhere. Volunteer at vaccination centers, a shelter, food bank or anywhere in your neighborhood or community. Say “hello” to every cashier at every store you frequent and make their day. Mystics teach that our positive actions truly lift our souls and inspire us to make the most of every day and create eternal impact in every encounter.
Life will always be filled with some levels of risk but do not let it hold you back from making the most of this every day. Find blessings in the rain and the risks of life. In the words of William Faulkner, “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”
Popular motivator, mentor, and inspirational speaker, Rabbi Daniel Cohen’s unique blend of authenticity, humor, wisdom, and insight helps anyone better navigate contemporary society and lead a life of legacy. Rabbi Cohen has served in the rabbinate for over twenty five years and is the author of What Will They Say About You When You Are Gone? Creating a Life of Legacy.