Retrospective: 2003

This post, from February 2003, is about motivation. And about risk. Thanks for coming along on this ten year retrospective.


“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 I’m 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 I’ve 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 “necessary and appropriate” 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.

That’s how creative work gets done. That’s 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 don’t 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 doesn’t work and we call that growth.

Sometimes it does work.

We call that joy.

3 thoughts on “Retrospective: 2003”

  1. Am enjoying the retrospective, and being reminded of some of the great posts you’ve written over the years. This is one of my favorites.

  2. Best definition of “risk” I’ve ever read: “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.”
    I’ll be sharing this with my public speaking students. It’s interesting to read these postings that predate my getting to know you as a prof. Thanks for not resigning such timely thoughts to a dusty archive. 🙂

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