On motivation

We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it…

–Robert Frost, “The Exposed Nest”

This semester Iím requiring my writing students to keep a blog, and this journal is an effort to practice what I preach. What I preach in a writing class, and perhaps in all my classes, is that success requires discipline and risk. Their blog, and my blog, is all about that.

Writing and publishing something three times a week is a discipline, of course. And it touches on all the things Iíve been discussing here. Financial discipline, physical discipline, spiritual discipline: discipline is the foundation for any kind of success, and the lesson of life itself. But my own more specific and unique contribution to the conversation is about risk.

For several years now I have understood that my mission is to develop programs and create messages that stimulate people to take necessary and appropriate risks. As an elder in my church, as a parent, as a teacher, as a writer, as a department head, this is my underlying motivation. I believe all personal and institutional growth is about risk taking.

By risk taking I do not simply mean taking chances, although there is some element of that involved. But by ďnecessary and appropriateĒ I intend to take the concept out of the realm of a crap shoot. By risk I mean doing something uncomfortable in order to learn, grow or succeed, accepting the possibility of failure as a necessary and useful condition.

Thatís how creative work gets done. Thatís how any important work gets done. There is value in mastering the skills and setting the goals and gathering the information and considering the context. But at some point you have to do the uncomfortable thing. You might fail, but you learn something. If you donít do the uncomfortable thing, then you do fail, and learn nothing. Worse, you add one more brick to a wall of fear.

Risk taking. In art, we call it creativity. In leadership, we call it vision. In relationships, we call it vulnerability. In school, we call it learning. In life, we call it love. In all things, we call it faith.

The writer of Hebrews says faith is the evidence of things not seen. Based on such evidence, we do the uncomfortable thing in order to understand the unknowable thing and accomplish the unimaginable thing.

Sometimes it doesnít work and we call that growth.

Sometimes it does work. We call that joy.

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