Let’s Talk About… Taking Chances

By Jeremy Godwin.

Welcome back to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, a weekly podcast/article about mental health and wellbeing by Australian author and speaker Jeremy Godwin. This week we’re talking about taking chances – the importance of taking calculated risks in life, and how to throw caution to the wind to make things happen in your life for the sake of your mental health and wellbeing. Listen in the Spotify player below or read the transcript beneath the player. So, let’s talk!

Before we start: Just a quick reminder that you can also listen to the weekly podcast version of Let’s Talk About Mental Health on platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube (audio only), Google Podcasts & Pocket Casts plus other platforms – more links here. Please take a moment to subscribe via your preferred podcasting service – thanks!

Introduction

Have you ever wanted to do something you were passionate about but haven’t because something has held you back? This week’s episode is all about taking chances – what holds us back, the difference between a calculated risk and a regular risk, as well as how (and why) to push through and take more calculated risks in life.

When I was a kid I wanted to either be a pop star or a writer. It turns out that I can’t sing (well, I mean I can, but it’s so out of tune that people wouldn’t pay to hear it – they’d probably pay to make it stop though, so that’s something to consider for the future…!), however I’ve always written in my spare time and a few years ago I had a stab at doing something about it, releasing my first couple of books and taking small steps towards building a career; but, not long after, I found myself holding back and making excuses for why it wasn’t the right thing to do right now. So, I went back to working in the business world… and we all know how that turned out (hint: I left it again two months ago!). Which brings me to today’s topic – taking chances.

Defining ‘taking chances’

Before I get into defining ‘taking chances’, the burning question is probably why did I go with this topic this week? I guess I subconsciously chose ‘taking chances’ as the topic for this week because what I’m doing at the moment involves a lot of risk. I haven’t really gone into too much detail about my process behind starting up Let’s Talk About Mental Health, but to cut a long story short I’m taking at least six months to focus on this full-time and see where it takes me. Now, that involves a lot of risk and there are two ways to go about anything that involves risk: either go in guns blazing without any forethought and just deal with the aftermath once the dust settles, or you can spend the time to carefully weigh up the pros and the cons beforehand, as well as the opportunities and potential challenges, in order to make a more considered and balanced decision. That’s what a calculated risk is, and it’s something that has mostly been second-nature for me because when you work in the corporate world, you’re expected to do your due-diligence first rather than just rush into things like a bull in a china shop. A calculated risk is still a risk and it still might fail, but it means you have taken the time to work through all the possible reasons not to do something before you jump in and actually do it. It means giving something a go even if it might not work out, because the potential rewards outweigh any risk.

When I talk about taking chances I am not talking about just going off and doing whatever you want while you hope for the best that it works out – that’s not taking a chance, that’s a leap of faith, and while there’s nothing wrong with taking a leap of faith, you’ll find that you have less control over what comes your way after the initial leap and that means you will be less prepared to tackle any problems that might arise. I mean, would you start up a new business without at least doing a bit of market research and creating a basic business plan? I certainly hope not! It’s a cliché, sure, but failing to plan is planning to fail. By all means put your faith in the universe, a higher power, the law of attraction, Lizzo… whatever works for you – but don’t be naïve and expect that taking a chance will pay off if you don’t put in the work to give it the greatest chance of success possible.

Some examples of taking chances could include changing career, moving to a new city, buying a house that needs a lot of work, turning a hobby into a business, travelling the world for a year, chasing your passions, etc etc… basically, if it involves pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and taking a risk, it’s an example of taking chances. As always, please note that I am talking about doing things that don’t cause harm to others or to yourself!

Taking chances and mental health

The notion of taking chances is very relevant to mental health and wellbeing, because often it’s our unfulfilled dreams and desires which can weigh on us and cause us to start playing the “what if?” game, which just isn’t healthy. I strongly believe that we should all aim for a ‘no regrets’ life if we want to look after our mental health and wellbeing – you might never be 100% regret-free, and that’s OK (perfection is overrated and unrealistic), but the closest you can get the more satisfied you’ll feel.

Good mental health and wellbeing involves being satisfied with where you are today – if you’re not satisfied, then it’s up to you to do something about it. You’ll notice that I said ‘satisfied’ and not ‘happy’ – happiness is great, but it’s an emotion which is fleeting and it can never be a permanent state because life happens and as a result your emotions will fluctuate. ‘Satisfied’ is being content with what you have, what you do and where you are in life – these are all things that can contribute to happiness in the long term, so that even when shit happens you’re able to recognise that your life, in general, is what you want it to be. If you always wanted to be an actor yet you work full-time as an accountant, you might find yourself feeling unfulfilled or dissatisfied – that’s where it’s an opportunity for you to take a chance and pursue your dream, or at least find a way to integrate what it is you’re passionate about into your current life, side by side. In the podcast I speak more about how this topic is a big one for me at the moment, especially given the kind of work I’m doing now with Let’s Talk About Mental Health, so feel free to give it a listen (links here).

Why do we avoid taking chances? Fear. Fear is a powerful motivator (or de-motivator, when you really think about it). Fear will keep you stuck in the same place while the world overtakes you, until all of a sudden you’re so far behind that it seems impossible that you might ever be able to do any of those things you once dreamed of. 

One of the common things many of us do is to wait for the ‘right’ time to do things. Guess what? There isn’t a right time to do anything. Life doesn’t work like that. Sometimes you just need to jump right in and take a chance. After all, what’s the worst that could happen – it won’t be ‘perfect’? So what?! There’s a notion of perfection that has rooted itself deeply in our culture, and I for one am saying “to hell with that!”. Life is not perfect; life is messy, so why not take a chance and do something that makes your heart sing? If it’s not perfect, it doesn’t matter – at least you tried.

On that note: it is never too late to try something new or pursue a dream. Stan Lee was 39 when he created his first comic; Samuel L. Jackson’s first big film role came when he was 43, and Julia Child – the original celebrity chef – released her first cookbook at the age of 50. And don’t even get me started on the subject of Iris Apfel, the inspirational 98 year old fashion icon and businesswoman who found global fame in her 90’s. I will say it again: it is NEVER too late to take a chance! If Iris can do it, so can you! 🙂

The other part of fear that holds us back is fear of failure – and, OK, I get it. Nobody wants to make a fool of themselves and waste their time or money pursuing something that might not turn out the way we want. But if you fail, it’s not the end of the world – mistakes are how we learn. I talked about that in episode two of Let’s Talk About Mental Health and if you haven’t already listened to/read that episode then I’d highly encourage you to do so, because I talk about practical steps you can take to deal with making mistakes (read it here).

Much of what I’m talking about here is to do with your mindset and how you view the world, and frankly you have a choice whether or not you want to be fearful of failure or if you want to give yourself permission to try new things. Part of that comes down to embracing the notion that you are where you are today because this is your path, and going from there. I’m a firm believer that we are exactly where we need to be and that everything that happens in our lives – the good, the bad, the ugly and the downright ridiculous – happens for a reason. You can either choose to learn from it and run with it, or you can choose to become overwhelmed by it and try to run from it, which usually just keeps you huddled in a corner rocking back and forth. You have a choice when it comes to your life: live it, or let it live you. Taking a chance pushes you out of your comfort zone and can bring about real, fundamental change in your life – for example, when my partner and I made the decision to move from the city to the country I could never have imagined all the opportunities that would come our way as a direct result of taking that one calculated risk.  

I keep on talking about risks and, more specifically, calculated risks – but what does that actually mean? A calculated risk is when you do something that is risky, but where you have seriously thought through the various risks and have a fair idea of how you might tackle them if and when they arise. It’s about finding the right balance between logic and your emotions.

Think of an entrepreneur setting up a new business. They’re likely to be doing it because it’s something they’re passionate about, but passion alone doesn’t overcome challenges, and many small to medium enterprises fail within the first three years of operation. Careful and objective planning is the key to turning an idea from taking a chance into a successful outcome.

To be successful in any venture it’s important to detach yourself from the emotional side of whatever it is that you’re considering, and then the risks need to be balanced logically with the potential rewards. For some people, that’s just too hard to do and it can be almost impossible to distance themselves from the emotional connection for long enough to even talk through their idea with someone who isn’t emotionally invested in it, but it’s important to gather feedback and support from others who aren’t directly connected to whatever it is that you want to do because it will likely be more objective. When I was thinking about starting Let’s Talk About Mental Health, I talked it through with a few people whose perspectives mean a lot to me and that gave me a few extra things to think about – including some potential risks that I hadn’t considered, so I was able to better plan for them.

Taking chances is one thing; being successful is another. That’s why this week I’m encouraging you to take more chances and I’m also giving you these tips for how to have the best chance at success – there’s nothing wrong with failure because it has plenty to teach us, but you might as well aim for success! By knowing what possible risks might be associated with whatever it is that you’re wanting to do, you can give serious thought and consideration to how they might be addressed and if the pay-off would still be worth it in spite of the risks. To be successful you need to be critical, which is admittedly very tough to do!

Practical steps for taking chances

Alright, let’s get into the practical bit of this week’s post: how exactly do you process through whatever it is that you’re wanting to take a chance on, and how you can work out what is a calculated risk versus just a bad risk, so that you know whether or not something is worth trying. 

First, contemplate. Which is basically just another word for reflection, and you all know by now how much I love a bit of reflection time! If there’s something you want to do, ask yourself why you aren’t already doing whatever it is that you want to do. You need to really understand what has held you back or you won’t be going anywhere.

Next, confront whatever has held you back and challenge your beliefs. Fear of failure? Fear of looking like an idiot? Fear of losing everything? Until you confront those fears/thoughts/beliefs, they will control you. Challenge your beliefs about yourself – instead of thinking about what you can’t do, think about what you can do instead. A positive mindset goes a long way to challenging negative thought patterns. If you think you can’t do something, you’re probably right (thanks, Henry Ford).

Clarify. Be specific – be very clear about what it is that you want to do and why you want to do it, and be sure that your heart is in it 100%, before you proceed any further.

Now, calculate the risks. Give thought to how you might go about making it happen, and what the potential risks are. Think through your options and look at different ways you could do whatever it is that you want to do. Consider what could possibly go wrong, because shortly you’re going to create a plan to tackle it. While you’re doing this, canvass others for their thoughts on your idea. Ask others, including professionals or a mentor (if you have one), for impartial advice and guidance… don’t let them fear-talk you out of your idea, but ask them for rational and logical advice (and really listen).

Now it’s time to categorise the risks as either acceptable or unacceptable; for example, an acceptable risk might be to invest an amount of money from your savings that you can afford while knowing that you might lose it, whilst an unacceptable risk might be losing your house or your car or your life. It probably goes without saying, but acceptable = good and unacceptable = bad. If you identify an unacceptable risk, you need to change direction (if necessary) – tweak your plan so that the risk level is acceptable.

Once you’ve done all that, create a plan. Be specific about what you want to do, why you want to do it, how it will look and feel, how you will make it happen (step by step), and then add in what potential challenges and risks you have identified and how you will handle them if they manifest. Plan, plan, plan – take as long as you need.

Once you’ve worked through all of that stuff, there’s only one way forward: choose to make it happen. Make the choice, take action and stick to it. Sure, it’s probably going to be more complicated than that (this podcast/website certainly was not straightforward or easy to get up and running!), but once you’ve made the choice and committed to it 100% you will be more inclined to push through the roadblocks that will inevitably pop up. It’s a cliché, but you’ve got to be in it to win it! Thousands of people move to Los Angeles every year hoping to find fame and fortune – only a small number of those people will make it, but at least they’re giving it a go. As Irene Cara sang in the 80’s song ‘Flashdance (What a Feeling)’, “Take your passion, and make it happen”!

Summary and three quick tips for taking chances

To summarise: when you have a strong desire to do something and your instinct is screaming out at you, then do it. Do it now. Don’t wait. Make a choice to take a chance. What’s the worst that could happen – you’ll fail? Alright, but at least you gave it a go and you won’t be sitting in your rocking chair at 85 asking “what if?” – besides, you just might succeed! 

I don’t know about you, but I am making a choice, and that choice involves taking more chances. I’m devoting 100% of my energy to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, and I’ll see where it takes me. Will it pay off? Who knows?! Am I happy? You bet! I am the happiest I have been in a very long time – I feel energised, excited, terrified and optimistic all at once. It is, quite possibly, the greatest feeling in the world, because I am following my heart and doing something that I feel passionate about. In the words of those great philosophers of the late 1980’s, Mel & Kim, “Taking chances, bold advances… Don’t care if you think we’re out of line…” (That’s ‘Respectable’, in case you were wondering!) 🙂

To wrap up, here are my three main tips for taking chances:

  • Listen to your heart – if you feel unfulfilled and there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, take a chance and do it. You’ll never know if you never try.
  • Plan, plan, plan… then plan some more – Take the time to create a plan and really work through the possible challenges so that you can take calculated risks rather than just rushing in.
  • Challenge your thought patterns – Be prepared to confront your own mindset because when we feel fear it can stop us from taking the next step, so be willing and motivated to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Reflection

As always, let’s finish up with a quote. This is a quote from New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield, and although she lived over a hundred years ago it is still very relevant today. Take a moment to reflect on this quote in relation to the topic of taking chances and consider what it means to you. The quote is:

“Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.”

Katherine Mansfield

So, that’s it for this week! Thanks for joining me again. New podcast episodes and blog posts are released every Monday morning (Australian time), and each Friday morning you can read the weekly Mental Health Talk newsletter which is full of general stuff about health and wellbeing (along with some fun stuff) so please subscribe via the website. For more content, go to:

Next week I’ll be talking about Self-Care – I hope you’ll join me again. Until then, look after yourself and make a conscious choice to put some positive energy out into the world – you get back what you give out!

Jeremy 🙂

Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Because the more we talk about it, the easier it gets.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2019 Jeremy Godwin.

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