Big Risks and the Courage to be Authentic

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We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be. ~ May Sarton

What could be riskier than diving out of an airplane or climbing a glacier-covered peak or accelerating a race car into a curve at the Indy 500?

A lot, actually.

For one person it might be quitting a secure, well-paying job to go back to school or start their own biz. For another, it could be deciding to leave a marriage after 18 years, or reporting that the company they work for is endangering the environment or people’s lives (BTW whistleblowers rock!).

Though it may not appear so at first glance, psychological risks that summon us to put our personal values and beliefs on the line may ultimately feel more dangerous than those of physical derring-do.

And this is why we avoid living authentically. This is why, despite its ability to make us utterly exhausted, we put on masks EVERY DAY and try to be someone we are not.

Ask me how I know…

OK I’ll tell ya: I know, because I was there. I hated social events because they drained me…I was expected to be a certain way, I had to be energetic and perky and funny and crazy even though that night I felt like being mellow and listening to an audio on positive psychology. I filled my calendar with TONS of events I wasn’t in the mood for because I was expected to be there, to do those things, even though all I wanted to do was chill at home.

What I realized was that it wasn’t social events that bothered me: it was who I thought I was supposed to be when I showed up, and when I wasn’t feeling that way, “having” to act the part was too much to handle.

The thing is, no one expected these things of me except myself! It took me years to discover this, but once I did, I had much more fun – and much more energy 😉

Ironically, while the risks we take to be authentic are often the most scary things to do, these are also the challenges that we are asked to face time and time again if we are to continue to grow as individuals. Every time we take a risk that contributes to our personal growth, enhances our self-esteem, or enriches our lives, we make the choice to stretch ourselves, knowing there are no guarantees and risking possible failure.

Growth-producing risks generally fall into three categories:

Self-Improvement Risks
These are the risks you take when you want to learn something new or make a distant dream a reality, for example. You take on the venture with hopes of enriching your life. Maybe you want to change careers, or take singing lessons, or learn to speak Italian. On one side of the risk is the person you are and, on the other, the person you want to become.

Commitment Risks
All commitment risks have emotional stakes, whether you pledge yourself to a person, a relationship, a cause, a career, or a value. According to Joseph Ilardo, author of Risk-Taking for Personal Growth, if you avoid making emotional commitments, you all but guarantee that your emotional growth will be stunted.

Self-Disclosure Risks
Communication risks fall into the category of self-disclosure. Anytime you tell someone how you really feel, you’re taking the chance of self-disclosure and, to put it bluntly, someone not liking you. When you open up to others and reveal who you really are, how you feel and what you want and need, you make yourself vulnerable. It is impossible to be assertive without doing so.

Here’s what make such risks so scary: All risks carry with them the possibility of failure. Often significant sacrifices must be made before any real benefits are realized. Routines may have to change; the familiar may have to be released. And yeah, you may be rejected or humiliated. In the case of commitment to a value, personal safety may be in danger (consider those who stand up for what they believe in or put their own health and well-being on the line in the name of a cause).

However, despite the potential consequences of these risks, here’s what makes them so worthwhile: challenging yourself is often the key to personal growth and development.

Are you a risk-taking soul warrior? Ask yourself the following questions:

• Does every decision involve endless debates with yourself?

• Do you accept less than what you should because you’re afraid to speak up?

• Do you have difficulty making emotional commitments to others?

• Do you make up excuses that stop you from taking advantage of opportunities for self-improvement?

• Does fear of disapproval keep you from doing what you’d really like to do?

A “yes” answer to these questions indicates a reluctance to take risks, which may mean you tend to play it safe and reject change. And that’s OK! There’s nothing wrong with that per se, because it is quite normal to avoid risks. However, the deeper risk you take by avoiding them is that of not living a fulfilling and authentic life; a life of freedom, adventure, and purpose.

And to be frank, that would really suck.

Consider this: to fulfill your potential, to discover your real self and live an authentic life, you must take risks. And while security may appear to be the absence of change, the only genuine security lies in taking risks.

Did you hear that? I’ll say it again: the only genuine security lies in taking risks.

Be patient with yourself, and don’t be afraid of simply starting with smaller steps.

What can you do today to live more authentically? What’s one small action you can take, or a perspective to shift, that feels a little risky, but totally do-able? Start there. Share with us below – I read all responses and want to hear how your stretching your comfort zone. It makes me happy, AND you’ll inspire others!

Also, be sure to stay an active part of our tribe and cultivate a community around you who don’t just support, but celebrate people living authentically. If you’d like more on Authenticity, listen to my free Jedi Juice call on this topic by clicking here.

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