The other day, I stumbled across a blog post by Andy Dunn on Medium called, “The Risk Not Taken.” I’d love to credit where I found the link that led me there, but when I sat down to my computer after a break it was already on the screen. I probably clicked on a link in my RSS feed before my break, but for the life of me I couldn’t find the linking article when I searched through my feeds. So, maybe it was some strange bit of serendipity due to an errant click by my son.
Regardless of what led me to the article, it was an interesting read. Andy’s basic premise in the article is that when you are confronted with a new opportunity, the true risk doesn’t lie with taking the opportunity. The true risk lies in not taking the presented opportunity. His different way of assessing risk when faced with a new opportunity made me think about how I view opportunities and their associated risks.
Whenever an uncertain situation or opportunity pops up, most people ask themselves if they should take the risk and seize the opportunity before them. My wife and I have usually bucked that trend. If we were excited about the opportunity, we just went for it. That has led us down a much different path than most people in our shoes would have chosen. I’ve often thought about Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” when I’ve considered those choices. When most people think of that poem, they remember the last three lines.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
To me those last three lines are beautiful, but have the benefit of hindsight, which is not something you get when you make your decision to take a risk. I, however, have always focused on the first stanza, which is more on the decision than the result. That’s the part that has always seemed more important to me.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
That stanza fits how I approach those situations where an opportunity presents itself. I think as far down the paths available to me as I reasonably can and then try to weight the actual potential benefits and the actual potential drawbacks. I don’t let fear cloud my judgement. That would bias every decision against new opportunities. That’s not a useful bias. Despite what anyone thinks, there are no secure paths anymore. Some paths are less secure than others, but you can get a “safe” job and still get fired, get a pay cut or end up in a untenable work situation. Picking safety is more an illusion than it ever was. So, we don’t usually worry overly much about the long term security afforded to us by any given opportunity. Instead, we rely on our ability to take what life gives us and forge a fitting path for ourselves. After reading Andy Dunn’s article though, I know I’ll consider opportunities a little bit differently though. And that might make all the difference.