The Necessity of Risk in a World of Loss

September 14, 2015

By Emilio Pacheco

We’re conditioned to deal with loss by ignoring the pain of it. We retreat to an emotional fetal position and hide. What if we decided to feel that pain, in full, openly and honestly? What if we decided we aren’t afraid of risking it all?

Risk is a fundamental tenet of life on this planet. Without risk, nothing can be done. If you cannot find the courage to possibly lose what you have now, it is impossible for you to gain anything more. We live in a risk-adverse society. Survival has now been replaced by comfort. We seek comfortable lives, comfortable jobs, and comfortable people. We ignore the impact of risk and strive to play it safe.

With risk comes the stark inevitability of loss. Most of us have experienced it at some point; that gut wrenching sensation of knowing you’ll never see a dying loved one’s face again, or the dread and uncertainty when your home is foreclosed on or destroyed. It’s a gritty unpleasant sensation, and the root of why we are so skittish towards risk in our lives. We ignore the reality that our attachment to people, things, and places is tenuous at the best of times. Everything, and anything can be taken away from you at a moments notice without your consent or foreknowledge.

That is why risk is essential, especially now. It’s in opposition to everything we’ve been taught; which is to be born, live, and die in a perpetual state of comfort- striving only for the means to numb ourselves towards reality. Nobody is afraid of failure when they aren’t afraid of the potential for loss.

It is how we deal with our losses that determine whether we are willing to take more risks. Think of the last time you lost something so dear to you that it caused you physical pain. How did you respond? There are, as I see it, two ways to deal with our loses.

  1. You recoil.
  2. You extend.

To recoil is to seek comfort and ignore or suffocate the pain, and this is almost the same as never having taken a risk in the first place. However, instead of staying stagnant and frozen, you move backwards. You lose what you were attached to, and you also lose your will to gain more.

To extend is to push forth and reclaim what you lost. It emboldens you toward risk in the future. This is the indomitable spirit that has been embodied in many of our greatest innovators. One thing about extending is that you still feel the pain of the loss. You still mourn and allow yourself to feel, yet in doing so you armor yourself against pain and loss in the future.

What does not kill us truly does make us stronger, but only if we do not deny the damage. Feel your pain, own it, and take control of it. Use that pain to force yourself into a better place than you started. Feel the resentment of losing out, own the abandonment of those you loved, control the gut-wrenching depression, and burn it for fuel. You can sink into an early grave beneath the weight of your baggage; or you can sling it across your shoulder, peel the skin off your hands, and risk life and limb climbing to the top of the world.

This is the quintessence of risk taking.