What Makes Taking a BIG RISK for Change Worthwhile?

Making a change that will radically shift your life involves taking at least one risk that is a definite challenge to what is known and familiar to you. Such challenges can be external, involving changing professions, investing capital to create change, or moving to a different place. But at a transformational level, taking a BIG RISK involves changing from within yourself, too. So what is a BIG RISK to one person will not necessarily be the same BIG RISK to someone else with a different personality, skills, and life experience.

The bigger the challenge is to a person, the bigger the risk will seem. For one of my clients, Jessica— a parent planning to come out with a book about a controversial subject that she was passionate about, bullying in public schools— was like being in a nightmare of having to solo pilot and land a small plane in a dangerous terrain without total confidence in her equipment or how to land safely in an emergency. She was a person who protected her privacy, and her biggest fear was that she would be exposing herself and her family to intense, possibly hurtful, public scrutiny in order to promote and sell her book.

Jessica came for coaching because she felt stuck. She'd written her book, but didn't know whether to publish it. I started by having her define what the value was to her in taking on such a huge challenge. While privacy for herself and her family was important to her, as her son started college, she felt a strong inner drive to voice her concerns about bullying at school that had strongly impacted her family when her son was a young teenager. Coaching gave Jessica a safe, supportive place to talk freely about the meaning to her of putting her book out in public. I also heard her compassion and empathy for those children who were bullied, felt they had no one to help them, and whose lives at school became a horror. 

With her family's support, she was willing to take the risk of their public exposure because of the big picture she held— feeling that, through her book, she could become a leader in the movement to create a positive and safer environment in public schools. Her deep desire was to change the way principals, teachers, and teaching aides are trained in viewing and dealing with bullying in the schools. Her intent was to set up a new paradigm for classrooms and playgrounds to become safe places for children and teens to be and learn. 

As she said this, I asked her to notice what she was sensing in her body. She paused for a moment, then replied that she'd been holding her breath tightly in her chest and diaphragm. When I asked her what she was feeling there, she responded, "Fear of believing that I can risk my life as it is and become a more public voice for change."

It's important to remember that taking a BIG RISK to make a change that matters vitally to you is not about the absence of fear. It's about becoming aware that fear indicates the presence of a direct challenge to your spirit— and that you need to prepare inwardly and outwardly to move past your fear. One way to do this is by acknowledging what success really means to you. This is what makes taking the risk worthwhile— taking on the challenge of making a change that inspires you, and that will transform the way you are and what you can offer to the world.

As we continued our sessions, Jessica decided to see taking her risk to publish her book from a new perspective— My Big Adventure!  I'd asked her, what will be your reward? Now she was able to reply, the adventure itself, learning to fly freely! 

We also practiced grounding techniques such as stopping to breathe slowly and fully to calm feelings of anxiety and hold her new Big Adventure perspective in going forward. Another grounding exercise was guiding Jessica to feel her feet on the ground connecting with the embracing energy of the earth. I also had her place her hand on her heart to connect with her own love and compassion for herself, to give her nourishing support from within for taking the risk to make the change she desired (Linda Graham, Bouncing Back).    

Next, Jessica planned smaller action steps she could take that would help break down the BIG RISK factor. Using the metaphor of trying to land a small plane safely in dangerous, unknown territory, she saw that she could prepare by having her equipment (her book) carefully inspected before flight time (by her editor and her friends reading over her manuscript); have training in making emergency landings (learning how she could handle criticism of herself and her book); and very importantly, learn to manage fear. She recognized how vital it was to have understanding friends and professional/ emotional support people to help her through any challenges that would arise after her book's publication.

She checked out the terrain of who she wanted to read her book, and made a list of her allies in getting the book out and getting positive reviews from teachers, principals, and other parents she knew. She had in-person and online talks with these people and began to get contacts for interviews on the radio, newspapers, education journals, and online sources. Jessica felt excited, and increasingly confident, that she was making progress in checking out where she'd be landing with her book with her action plan to change the public school culture and create zero-tolerance for bullying.

At a deeper level, Jessica found her inner well of inspiration to create something bigger than herself of true value in the world— a beneficial contribution to young, vulnerable people. As a consequence of taking this BIG RISK, she felt prepared to fly forward, confident that she was prepared from within to meet the challenges of getting to where she really wanted to go! 

"You shifted perspectives . . . You allowed your heart to open. You let the bird out of the cage. You are flying!"  — Pamela Hale, Flying Lessons