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Moving Mountains/Magical Choices For Empowering Your Life's Journey
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Chapter 11
By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

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Risk Taking -

Far better it is to dare mighty things
to win glorious triumphs even though
checkered by failure, than to rank
with those poor spirits who neither
enjoy nor suffer much because they
live in the gray twilight that knows
neither victory nor defeat.
-Theodore Roosevelt

I was having dinner one night with a friend. She told me she believes that she understands herself very well but she didn’t know how understanding herself would help her solve the huge life challenges she was facing at this time. She asked me the following question.

“Even with everything that I understand about myself, I am no clearer about how to get beyond the second-class citizenship I hold with my family, my inability to decide on whether to get married or not, and my inability to decide on whether to get married or not, and my inability to find a career that I like and that likes me in kind. How can I get beyond these feelings of frustration and fear?”

I looked at her for a moment, contemplating the answer to her question. This question certainly was not a new question to me. I am asked this question in one fashion or another everyday by equally sincere, concerned people.

I knew how frightened she was about her future. I knew how unsure she was of present. And I also knew how terrified she was at the thought of trying to do anything differently.

I formulated an answer in my mind in very precise technical jargon. Then I quickly discarded what I assumed would be a very unhelpful technical explanation of  how personal empowerment comes about.

I finally shrugged my shoulders and just said, “You gotta put a little umph into your life.”

She looked confused and said, “What!!!?

I repeated, “Umph—you know…sort of a magic combination of creative energy and daring—you gotta put some umph into your life.”

I tried to explain what I meant. There is no way I know of to comfortably go beyond who we are today.

We’ve carefully crafted our lives for many reasons. Some of those reasons are known to us and some reasons are not known. There are all kinds of technical explanations for why that is, but believe me, I don’t know any explanation that helps a person who is scared and confused take the kind of action needed to move beyond the stuck point they are currently in.

That’s where my theory about umph comes into play. We already know that personal empowerment is the end result of new and different thinking combined with new and different actions. These new and different actions are very specific. We refer to these actions as risk-taking.

You have to take risks. There is no way around it, over it, or under it. You have to be able to step out of your emotional comfort zone to solve whatever life challenges are presenting themselves to you.

I know of no way to transcend a challenge without creating a new way of thinking and acting. Your old ways exist for comfort. They exist to prevent you from feeling anxious, fearful, and overwhelmed for any great length of time. They exist to create a life of psychological comfort.

That is why risk-taking is such an important component of personal empowerment.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting we all turn into daredevils. Quite the contrary. I do not equate risk-taking with hazardous or dangerous behavior. I think of risk-taking only in the sense of taking one step outside of your zone of emotional comfort.

In fact, I encourage you to do so in ways that ensure your emotional, psychological, and physical safety.

A long time ago, I created something call Steve’s Private Hall of Fame. It is a book of newspaper clippings, stories, and photos of people, who through the use of manageable risk-taking, expanding their lives beyond the bounds of the limitations imposed by others, their circumstances, or themselves.

One of the people I greatly admire in the book is a man called Bob Weiland. Bob is a marathon runner.

I first became aware of him when he is decided to run 2700 miles across America. That is a remarkable feat for anyone to attempt.

Bob is even more remarkable because of the fact that both of Bob’s legs were amputated in the Viet Nam war. You see, he propels himself with his arms and hands, while he glides on the ground strapped into a sled.

This was a man who was not going to be stopped at what many of us would consider to be significant physical limitations. His life is a monument to the proposition that if you continually take one step outside of your zone of personal comfort, you can go anywhere you want to get in your life despite the circumstances of your life.

Along the way Bob, gave interviews and encouraged people to take risks to overcome their own personal challenges.

I still have the book I created from Bob’s story and others like him. One of the lessons I learned from making the book is that big successes in life, like running 2700 miles propelled by your hands, is not one giant victory. Instead, it was the accumulation of many small victories.

A friend and I were talking one day. I’ve written about him before. He sat down and said, “Steve I think something is really wrong with me and I want to talk to you about it.”

He looked down at his coffee and thought for a moment, “I’m scared most of the time. I never feel like getting out and meeting people. I mean, I feel kind of crippled socially. I stay at home, feel bad, and it just adds to feelings of the loneliness and emptiness I feel already.”

I asked him what he was willing to do to stop feeling bad.

“Well, I’m willing to talk about it, I’m doing that now,” he said. “And I’m willing to try and change. When I get home at night, I just sit there. I feel so scared to go out. Scared to meet new people. The thought of meeting new people terrifies me. I feel hopeless and alone. It’s like I’m sitting in a pool of thick mud and I can’t get out.”

I told him he was not alone. And we mapped out some concrete things he could do to begin to change.

I explained to my friend what I am about to share with you. It’s absolutely fool proof. Don’t be deceived by its seeming simplicity. There is nothing you cannot accomplish if you stick to this simple game plan.

You see the key to risk-taking is concreteness. Global plans that contain more of your wishful thinking and less of your commitment to action are doomed before you start.

Whenever I am confronted with embarking on a new project, I map out the concrete steps I will take for the first stage of the new project. There are two important points in that last sentence.

Point one, create a concrete plan. Plans must be concrete and specific if they are to be effective. Global goals such as ‘I want to be happy’ or ‘I want joy in my life’, or ‘I am going to win a marathon race’ are great goals. But how are you going to make those happen? What are the specific steps it takes to be happy? In what order should these steps be executed? What resources are you going to need in order to make that happen? Think big but be specific and concrete.

And point two, start with the first stage of the project. I never overwhelm myself with viewing how the whole project will be completed. I divide the project into manageable stages and then create a concrete plan.

Now the next part of the plan is absolutely critical. Without using this step, you will make things infinitely more difficult for yourself than they need be. After reviewing the plan, I then create a second list of all the things I have to do within this first stage of the plan that are new or seemingly risky. I go over what is risky about each aspect of the plan. And I do something that is absolutely essential for me. I ask for help.

That’s right, help. I know that my spirit to overcome any obstacle is exponentially increased when I receive support from my people who are willing to invest in my well-being.

Now I know, it seems so simple. Just ask for help. Believe me when I tell you, I watch people all the time make their lives exponentially more difficult than it ever has to be because of their total discomfort with asking for help. Believe me, we can’t get to where we want to get in our lives by ourselves. Hold onto this one thought—other people’s help is a blessing, not a curse.

As I said, don’t be fooled by what may appear to be oversimplified fluff. This formula has moved mountains for me in my life. It can do the same for you, if you just give it a shot.

Pathfinder’s Toolbox

 For those of us who have been unwilling or unable to take risks, the idea of implementing manageable risk-taking into our life can be awesome. If you are a person who takes risks often, then this is probably old news to you. But if you feel hesitation tugging at your heels every time you are presented with the opportunity to step out of the rut of daily living, then you know all too well what I mean.

In fact, if you are a truly practiced monotonist you fall into the category of what I call the risk impaired. That means you probably have been isolated from change so long, you don’t even consider options unless you are forced into a crisis situation.

Think about it. Do you walk through your day aware of the choices you have made every step of the way? Or is every trip to the store unexamined and lifeless

I became aware of the pitfalls of zombie living one day in college. I was driving up Lakeshore Drive making my way to school in a small town just north of Chicago. I was working on my masters degree, and it was the last day of finals at the end of a critical semester for me. I had a lot on my mind.

As I rounded the bend along the lake, I heard a loud noise and the car started to jerk. I drove into a gas station and was told if I went any further without fixing the problem, the engine would be irreparably damaged.

I had plenty of time before the exams began, so I left the car in the gas station parking lot and did something I had never done before. I got on a bus.

I’m not originally from Chicago. And getting on a bus was something I had avoided for a long time. It made me nervous. Real nervous. I did not know any of the bus routes. So you will understand me when I tell you when I just got on a bus, it was a big risk for me. I was thinking about the two final exams for school. I was nervous. So, I got on the first bus I saw. It was just any bus. I had no idea where it was going.

Looking back now the events of that day seem ridiculous. At the time, I was so flustered about being forced to take a risk, I didn’t really think about what was happening. My daily routine was so safe and protected, that once shattered, there were few guidelines to direct my decision making.

Eventually, the bus I had happened aboard found its way to the main terminal and I had an opportunity to get some good directions. I found a new bus and made it to campus in time to take both tests.

But I came away from the whole thing painfully aware of the how my self-imposed limitations prevented me from broadening my horizons. The value of stepping out of my zone of comfort provided me with new found confidence to use public transportation to get me places I had been avoiding up to that point in time. My whole world literally opened up for me.

I believe even more importantly, the small victory I has that day gave me the confidence to take other small steps in other areas of my life.

This only served to reinforce the following for me. Personal empowerment is a process. This process is built upon the backs of numerous attempts at taking several manageable risks.

The net effect of these manageable risks was my life has expanded by conquering one-by-one the things that used to limit my life. I have since learned there are three important things all effective risk-takers know. Do it in small steps. Do it on your own initiative. Do it now.


Pathinfinder’s Tip
Big outcomes are the result of small changes.

I had a teacher in school who once noticed how frustrated I was as I was wrestling with an assignment. “Steve,” he told me, “doing something—anything so big—is like trying to build a pyramid. Remember, you can only build a pyramid one brick at a time.”

To make his point, he went on to share with me something Gandhi once said,

It’s action, not the fruit of action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.

To this day, those words have guided me whenever discouragement paralyzes my spirit.

Pathfinder’s Tip
An empowered person initiates the steps necessary to get them from here to there, rather than waiting for somebody else to do it for them.

I once had a neighbor who owned a 1927 Model-T Ford. The car sat in his garage. One day I asked him where it came from.

He said, “I used to work in a used car lot when I was young. One day a couple came in to buy a car and this is what they gave for a trade-in. I saw the opportunity and jumped on it. That was forty years ago. It’s been here ever since.

When I saw the car, it needed lots of work. The body was caked with mud 50 years old. The engine needed attention. In fact almost everything on the car was in some need of repair. I asked him if he had ever started the car.

“Not yet,” he said, “but someday I’m going to rebuild the whole car.”

I asked him if he thought about rebuilding a little bit of the car at a time. And he said, “Oh, I don’t want to get into a project—that might lead to a lot of work.”

That man died several years ago. At his funeral I remembered a quote from Henry Ford as I wondered about the fate of that old car.

“You can’t build a reputation on what you’re GOING to do.”

Don’t you know the car was still sitting in his garage, untouched, until the day he died.


Pathfinder’s Tip
Tomorrow’s opportunities are too late. Live life in the moment.

I think almost everyone battles with the idea of risk-taking. When confronted with a challenge that requires taking a risk, tomorrow always looks very attractive to us. I know a man who is an accomplished musician. He is articulate, well spoken, and by the account of most who know him, filled with joy.

One day we were casually talking, when he started telling some stories. He has a way of telling the stories of his life that take you breath away. During a long career, he has performed for many heads of state, international government leaders, even kings and queens.

While he was talking, I matter-of-factly asked, “Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?”

And he surprised me. He said, “One thing. I would have learned to follow my dreams sooner. And I would have tried to take more risks to reach my dreams.”

“But you did follow your dream, didn’t you?” I asked.

“I wasted years finding my destiny, Steve. I only regret I didn’t take time early on to find where my heart wanted to take me. I’m sure I would have ended up with the same dreams, but I would have had many more years to enjoy it. I think I put things off for far too long.”

The ancient Romans had a marvelous way of understanding living. They summed it up in two words. We know they did because these words were inscribed in the walls of public places for everyone to see. The words are Carpe Diem which translates—Seize the Day!

Empowerment is not a life of being free from fear, it is a life of living with and managing the fear that you have.



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


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