When it comes to taking big leaps in your life or work — a new home, a big career move, a new relationship — how much do you try to control or eliminate the risk? Many of my clients try to plan for every contingency by playing the “what if” game. But that game often leads to stagnation.
You might think you don’t have a “risk taker” personality. But you embrace risk every day.
Daily Life is Filled With Risks
Have you ever considered how many risks you take on a daily basis?
The Risks on the Subway
If you thought about it for even a few minutes, you would realize that the NYC subway system is an easy target for a terrorist attack.
What would stop someone from planting bombs, carrying out a mass shooting, or unleashing a chemical agent?
There are no metal detectors. The best deterrent the NYPD has come up with is random bag search. I have no illusions that this will stop a determined terrorist. There are many points of entry into the system.
And if someone attacks, how do you escape? You’re underground, with narrow exit points. It can easily become a death trap.
If you spent too much time thinking about it, you wouldn’t ever ride the subway.
But then how would you get around?
The Risks of Walking
And we face risks from below. You don’t know when a steam pipe explosion will strike.
Walking around NYC is risky business.
The Risks of Bikes and Cars
What about biking? Good for the environment, but less good for the cyclists. NYC, has seen an increase in the number of cyclists injured or killed on the road. Nationally, cycling deaths on the road are increasing faster than driving or walking deaths.
According to the New York State Department of Health, motor vehicle traffic crashes are the leading cause of injury related death for New York State residents. Aside from the risk of “regular” car accidents, freak accidents like the recent bridge collapse in Italy may spook some people.
Risks in Public Places
If you can get past the risks involved in local travel, you might wonder where you can go and feel safe.
Despite the fact that mass shootings have occurred in movie theaters, schools, and houses of worship, these places remain largely accessible and unprotected. We live under the illusion that “large” events are the only possible targets for people want to commit mass casualties.
As I walk through the Union Square Greenmarket — the country’s largest farmer’s market — I often think about how vulnerable it is to attack. In Israel, an open-air market like this would have limited points of entry, with an army officer on guard to check bags. But there is no security presence at all at the Greenmarket. What’s to stop a suicide bomber from causing chaos on a busy market day?
Risks at Home
If you thought about any of this for more than a few minutes, you might be tempted to never leave your home.
Except that your home is filled with risk too. More than 18,000 Americans die every year from accidents in their home. It’s the second most common location for such fatalities.
The most common ways people die or suffer injury in their homes: falls, poisoning, burns, choking and suffocation, and drowning.
Even if you take every precaution to prevent those fates, there are risks you cannot foresee. In 2006, a plane piloted by NY Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle crashed into a building on the Upper East Side, killing a woman as she sat in her living room. In 2015, a gas pipe explosion caused a fire that destroyed three buildings in the East Village and killed two people.
So, staying home won’t keep you safe.
How Do You Navigate the Risks?
When you think of all the risk around you, you may start to feel like nothing is safe. In some sense that’s true. Risk is everywhere.
The Real Problem With Risk
The problem is not that “nothing is safe.”
The real problem is that you think “nothing is safe” is a “bad” thing.
And you think you can avoid risk. But you can’t. You can’t avoid it on the road, at home, or in any activity or project you pursue.
How to Navigate Life’s Risks
Instead of viewing it as a negative, what if you accept it for what it is? And what if you could trust that things would work out?
Because here’s the truth: you already do.
When it comes to navigating the world, you take the precautions you can take and put the risk in the back of your mind. You don’t try to negotiate contingencies with yourself or others about “what if this happens?” or “what if that happens?”
You buckle up, you put on a bike helmet, and you take other precautions.
And then you trust.
You trust that other people will honor the implicit social contracts of sharing the road and common space, that they will do their jobs, that some higher force will help keep you safe.
You trust that the big, scary, world will work as intended. That there won’t be an explosion under your feet, that bricks will stay attached to buildings, and that plywood won’t knock you to the ground.
You trust because you have no choice. It’s all you can do.
So what if you did this, not just in your daily routine, but also in that big leap into the unknown that has you swimming in the what-if’s and trying to manage and control and eliminate every risk.
If you can’t trust, then no matter where you go or what you do you’ll be a prisoner of fear. And living that way is not living.
Risk is unavoidable. It’s inherent to life.
The only way to live is to trust.
When this seems impossible, just remember: you already do it every day.