I’ve been thinking a lot about why taking risks is so important. It’s actually a theme that emerges both in my profession as a teacher and my desire to be a published writer. It’s also something which is necessary for growth. It’s something that each of us needs in order to develop intellectually, physically, and spiritually. If we don’t take risks, we don’t evolve; if we don’t evolve, we are static—and static beings perish; it’s a law of nature.
Often the byproduct of risk is failure. Our society—particularly American culture—despises failure, whether it’s in the arena of sports or in business ventures or in an artistic endeavors. This mentality rolls down from popular culture through peers, parents and even educational institutes, and gathers in many of the students I teach, filling them with anxiety and tipping them toward neurosis.
This fear of failure takes an even more troubling turn when students believe that grades—simply having A’s—is more important than learning. In other words, seeming to have succeeded is more important than actually succeeding. Having an A in English is more important than having learned how to write a clear and cohesive argument. I hardly blame the students, though, when our culture is giving them every indication that this is a perfectly acceptable way of thinking. Even our political parties are more concerned with “winning” instead of compromise and healthy debate. They don’t want a clear and cohesive argument; they want their position of power, their A.
We need a paradigm shift where taking risks, whether the individual fails or succeeds, is respected, and playing it safe is viewed as cowardly. We need to punch holes in superficial success, often monetary success, and define what real success is—which is, in a word, growth. More specifically—growth of character. You never grow more than when you fail, so in that sense, failure—at least failure born of risk—is success.
So, all pontificating aside, I must turn that theory back on myself and my professional goals. I must take risks in my teaching. I must take risks in my writing. And when I fail, which I will, I need to fend off that horrible anxiety, those whispering judgmental voices, which often are only promoting or critiquing superficial success. Of course, the best defense against those voices is the voice of a friend, loved-one, or colleague reminding me of what I believe deep down—that to gracefully fail, to learn from that failure, is succeeding.
I hope I can do the same for others.