“Where there is no prophetic vision, the people cast of all restraint.” – Proverbs 29:18
“Live a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” – Muhammad Ali
These and other motivational quotes are the sort of thing you’ll find haphazardly pinned on fleuro-coloured sticky notes to my bedroom wall. (Hey, it beats another fave: “Don’t be boring and always dress cute,” – thank you, Paris Hilton.)
Yes, I realise that the absence of a solid motivational quote is not the only thing that stands between me and the Pulitzer Prize; I recognise that my career doesn’t hang in the balance due to how deeply I ingest the words of Mohammed Ali (although the jury’s still out on Elizabeth Gilbert – that woman is amazing). But, in my travels around the world in the last decade, my motivational quotes, sticky notes and words of encouragement from friends have been one of the permanent features of my ever-changing walls.
The reason for this is, I suppose, that I have had many instances in my life where I’ve had to shore up my courage with Bible verses, kind notes, and yes – motivational quotes. (Another of my favourites is David Briggs’: “Be great or be gone” – I like my encouragement with a hint of gritty menace.) The written word is very powerful. The spoken word is incredibly powerful. There were days when frankly, I would stand up in my room and say a whole bunch of those quotes and verses out loud, one after the other to myself, because I needed to find something to hold onto that day; to rely on wisdom that wasn’t just from me.
I’m in a better place now, but there’s always new temptations. Temptations to fear and to doubt and to fear again, in virtually every area of my life: how will my career progress? Do I want a career? What is a career, really, to me?” (Picture me here if you will, placing both hands on my collarbone for emphasis on the “me”.) Or, on another tack: “How is my marriage doing? What if I just think it’s going great? What if actually we’re doing this all wrong?” And so on, and so forth. The list of fears we have can be comically long and varied.
The thing is, of course, that life is unstable and impermanent (although “Nothing is certain except death and taxes” was never the sort of inspirational quote which made it to my bedroom wall). We have to deal with uncertainty and risk at virtually every point in our lives, although we often delude ourselves that we have a measure of control in this. So no, we don’t have control; but we do have choices.
One of the choices that I’ve actively made in my life in the last few years, is to pursue risk. This was partly inspired by a friend of mine, who used to talk to me a lot about the idea of taking risks, and putting yourself in the way of failure (he also has a terrific story about the time he was hit as a pedestrian by two cars at the same moment, but that’s a story for another time).
My friend genuinely relished the chance to try something new, even if he was sure he’d be terrible at it. And then he’d do it again, and again, and again, and again and again. Some might say he was a masochist, but I found it genuinely inspiring to see him putting himself into situations where he had to sink or swim, over and over again.
Pursuing risk has often been humiliating for me. It’s been very scary. It’s jeopardised my career at times (as in: the time I moved to London in the middle of the global recession with great aspirations but no job, no prospects of a job, and no real back-up plan); it’s also put my heart on the line (see: online dating, blind dating, dating friends, dating cousins (JOKES!), normal dating and finally, flirting-outrageously-with-my-future-husband-to-get-a-date dating).
Now, obviously these were risks. Some paid off, some didn’t. But the thing is, I always knew, deep down in my gut that I actually had a back-up. That things weren’t quite the risk that I was led to believe – that I would often lead myself to believe.
When things looked desperate on the financial front, I didn’t have a trust fund – but I did and do have an unbelievable fund of grace from God (these are not empty words, by the way; I’ve truly seen and experienced things that can only be described as miraculous provision, when I was down and very nearly out). And when things looked absolutely dire on the romance front, and I truly believed that there was not one single person left in London who I hadn’t already dated, I put my jaded heart back into the hands of God, and saw Him turn things around in a way which still astonishes me today.
I understand that there isn’t a formula for the ways in which risks pay off – like when people tell you that you have to get to “the end of yourself”, in order to have a breakthrough, so you spend all your spare time trying to conjure up feelings of misery and desperation – or was that just me?
But I do know that there is always a pay-off. For me, many times, it was knowing that God would still be there when I fell flat on my face again. It was knowing that I’d survived. That I’d more than survived – that I was ok. That knowledge was freeing.
The other thing I know is, that every major change or new season that has come my way has been because I, or someone else, has taken a risk to see it happen. I can’t dispute this, so it’s something that I often remind myself, when I’m facing another opportunity for “personal growth”.
You might have a different way to answer the demands of risk and change and growth in your life – but I would encourage you with all my heart to have a way – a way that doesn’t involve sticking your head in the sand, or abdicating responsibility to someone else. A way that makes room for the fact that you might very well fail on the next endeavour – but that God is always with you. You will survive. You will be ok.
Trust me, that’s not just a motivational quote.