Nothing warms my heart and stimulates my funny bone quite like watching children play. Being the personality nerd I am, I am fascinated by how early children begin showing evidence of their unique natures. There are timid children who approach the tall slide seven or eight times and still refuse to come down. There are leader children who tell all the other kids what to do. There are loner babies who wander off and pick flowers or go on adventures with their imaginary friends. And, there are fearless children, the ones who make my heart leap out of my chest at least four times a minute. They are not afraid of boo-boos! They have no time to consider the consequences! It looks exciting and they simply must try!
No surprise to long-time readers, I was in the timid category. When I was four, my parents signed me up for swimming lessons because they did not want me to be afraid of the water. (Good job, Mom and Dad! I cannot get enough of the water! Your plan worked too well. ~wink~) In retrospect, I might not have been quite ready for swimming lessons at the age of four because I was completely unwilling to learn. In my class of about ten children, there were two teachers – one for me and one for everyone else. All summer long, my instructor tried to get me to jump into the deep end of the pool. She promised to catch me, but I could not bring myself to jump. Standing on the warm concrete in my floaties, I would look at her, think about jumping, and then run back to the shallow end. Even without understanding the potential consequences, I was unwilling to take a risk.
Thankfully, the story does not end there. A couple of years later, I took swimming lessons again and became a model student. Without eventually jumping in the pool, I would never have learned to swim. Without taking risks, none of us would ever be successful at anything.
A couple of years ago, I heard Steve Harvey’s (now) famous speech about jumping. He told the studio audience of Family Feud that to be successful, everyone eventually has to jump. We cannot sit in our safe comfort zones and expect life to come to us. We have to find out what our gifts are and then take the risk – dare to live in our gifts.
Now and then, I revisit his speech. This afternoon I listened again and the following statement struck me: “When you first jump, your parachute will not open right away.” This puzzle piece is what we often miss when we take off after our goals. Many of us grew up on inspirational Disney movies and then graduated to more “mature” movies where the hero or heroine always wins. In two hours, we watch an underdog move from the bottom to the top. The ugly becomes beautiful. The weak becomes strong. The failure becomes wildly successful. We feel inspired! We can do that too! I can live my dreams! No one can hold me back! But as we start down the path, we realize it is hard and long. There are thorns. Sometimes, we do not have a clue if we are even heading in the right direction.
Then, we feel a little angry. A little gypped. We were supposed to go after our dreams with fervor and then enjoy certain success; but, life rarely works that way. Success not only requires jumping into the uncomfortable unknown, but it requires tenacity. Our parachutes do not open right away. And if we know that going in, we are less likely to quit at the first sign of trouble.
Some things in life come only by taking a risk. If we ever hope to be successful in love, our careers, and even our relationships with God, we have to be willing to leap; however, these leaps do not always need to be spontaneous. In fact, it is usually safer when they are not. Twenty small jumps towards our destination are still jumps, and they still get us where we want to go.
Considerations Before Taking a Risk
- Have I researched this idea sufficiently? (Not completely or into the ground, but sufficiently.) There are planners, and there are jumpers. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, but we favor one side over the other. Planners want to know the when, where, what, how, and why of every decision. They want to talk to other people who have made the same move successfully, and unsuccessfully. They want to weigh the rewards with the risks and create a strategy which cannot fail. Life is rarely this neat and tidy, but a planner can dream! On the other side, we have the jumpers. They see a new opportunity, get inspired, and are ready to conquer! Whatever the potential problems are, they figure they will cross those bridges when they come to them. The world needs planners and jumpers. Planners keep the jumpers from breaking their necks, and jumpers help the planners actually do something and live life. Before leaping, we need to have the heart of a jumper and the mind of a planner. Think it through, but do not over think it. Have a date by which you will commit to a decision. Pray, do research, determine your motivations for considering the change, and then decide to jump.
- Am I financially steady enough to take this leap? As important as it is to take risks in life, and as romantic as emotional speeches make them sound, it is unwise to dive into a new adventure without first determining if you will have enough money to eat and lodge. When Eric and I went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Coach training in 2007, an inspirational gentleman came by to talk to us about his extremely successful coaching business. He left his former job behind to start his company, and he was knocking it out of the park. His presentation made us all want to run home, dump our jobs, and set up a coaching business by Friday. But, after he left, our instructors told us, “Before he began his business, he saved an emergency fund of $100,000.” That dandy piece of information quickly ripped apart our overnight rags to riches fantasy. Planning ahead and saving money before taking a chance does not make the leap any less of a leap. Bungee jumpers go to great lengths to secure themselves before they jump. Skydivers prepare before falling out of planes. Olympic high jumpers spend years conditioning themselves. If taking this particular leap could bankrupt you, it might not be time to take the risk. “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28)
- Have I considered what I will be giving up to take this leap of faith? Not all leaps are financial. Sometimes, we have to determine if a dating relationship is holding us back from where we want to head professionally or in ministry. It is especially hard to walk away from a comfortable relationship, even when we know it is not the best match. Some leaps require moving from a job we know well to a job which brings unknown challenges. All leaps come at a cost. To choose one school, you have to give up another. To commit in marriage to one person means not committing to any other. Pouring your energy into one career path means not having time and energy for another. Before taking the plunge, seriously consider all you will be giving up to do so. It is better to know the stakes beforehand and jump anyway than to leap in ignorance and be horrified later when you realize what you have lost.
- Who will be affected by my decision and how will they be affected? Will a move be required? If so, whose life (or lives) will I be uprooting and who will I be leaving behind? Will my financial outlook change and who will have to sacrifice along beside me? Will my decision put people out of work? For me to take this risk, who will be coming along for the ride and how will their lives change? Making risky decisions is easier when you are single, but, once you have attachments – significant others, spouses, children, employees, aging parents who need care, long-time friends who have become family – their needs factor into your decision. If your leap causes them some discomfort, that is only natural. Change is difficult at first, but some changes end up being amazing for everyone. However, if the change you are considering will push the people you love into a difficult predicament, you should consider if taking this leap would be a selfish act.
- What is my motivation for considering this risk? Am I being pressured into this? Do I believe I must do this to prove my value? If I knew I could not fail, is this the leap I would take? In ten years, will I be glad I took this risk? The late Jerry Falwell Sr. used to ask Liberty University students repeatedly, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Are you considering this risk because it seems safer than the risk you truly want to take? Is the ‘okay’ job offer in your home town not as scary as the ‘awesome’ job possibility located across the country? On the flip side, some ideas sound exciting in the moment, but quickly lose their glimmer. For a brief period in college, I thought I might be called to overseas missions. It is not uncommon to go through such a season of questioning when you attend an evangelical university. So, I went on a missions trip, and I freely admit… it was not my jam. Though my heart did ache for the people I encountered, I realized mission work is not my passion. As believers, we are all called to share the gospel whether near our homes or oceans away; and, if we are not going out into the world, we should be praying for and financially supporting those who are. There in the Guatemalan heat at 20-years-old, I realized my calling was not long-term missions. When I returned, I had two choices. Take what I learned from the experience and move forward, or let my guilt push me into continuing down a path which did not suit me at all. Before we make any major life changes, we need to question our motivation seriously.
When we live a risk-free life, we:
- Harbor regrets – Have you ever met someone who lived an easy, changeless life who did not have regrets?
- Begin to decay – Stagnant living leads to decay. Stagnant water stinks but flowing streams bring life!
- Create a breeding ground for insecurity to grow – The longer we go between taking risks, the harder it becomes to do so. When we work towards something, accomplish it, and then repeat the process, we gain confidence; but, if we put off going after our goals, we begin to question if we have what it takes to get what we want. Then, as our insecurity grows, we can become bitter and jealous of those who are successful.
- Sell ourselves short – One of my favorite country songs is The Dance by Garth Brooks. My favorite line is in the chorus, “I might have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.” Even the ventures which “fail” bring good to us – perspective, experience, new friends, precious memories, etc.
The timid little girl who did not want to jump into the deep end of the pool still lives inside of me. When I look at possibilities which excite me, I still feel the fear of change. What if it does not work out the way I want it to? What if I try and fail? What if I look foolish? What if I waste my time? Then I look back at the risks I have taken (leaving home to attend college, marrying someone so completely different than me, and even making friends) and realize I do not have one single regret. However, when I recall the times I stayed at the shallow end of the pool, sorrow abounds!
They say it is not our unsuccessful endeavors we mourn at the end of our lives, but the risks we did not take. At this point in your life, old age may seem too far away to imagine; but, if God gives you a long life, the end is coming, and it will be here before you can blink twice. When your hair is gray, your body is tired, and you are looking back over your life, what do you want to see? A safe, risk-free existence where you accomplished very little? Or, a messy, sometimes scary, exciting life where you pushed your limits, made mistakes, and enjoyed some well-fought victories?
No matter your age, you can leap. You can call your estranged relative and make amends. You can acquire a skill you have always wanted to learn. Or, maybe it is time to stop hiding and start looking for a loving mate with whom to spend your life. Your parachute may not open right away, but it will open.
Happy jumping. ~smile~
Are you ready to leap?