It’s Easy to Say “Take Risks” If You Have Nothing to Lose

Todd Brison

I literally gasped when he showed us the picture on his phone.

In the image, my new friend sat with his legs hanging off a cliff. Below him, the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean thrashed.

He wasn’t sitting on just any cliff. These were the Cliffs of Moher. They jut out from the southwest of Ireland and draw thousands of visitors each month. The photo shocked us because people are supposed to stay far clear of the cliff’s edge. There are ropes several feet back. Why? Because people die. The wind picks up. You lose your balance. And then…

“Caleb, how could you?” my wife said, covering her eyes like the heroine of an old silent film.

I still remember the shrug. The half-smile. The averted eyes. The pride. I always recognize the face of perceived invincibility. I used to wear it myself.

“It wasn’t that big of a deal.” he answered.

Do you know why my friend Caleb didn’t think twice about dangling his legs 700 feet above sharp rocks and crashing waves?

He has nothing to lose.

Now, he wouldn’t tell you that if you asked him. He’d think he had plenty to lose: a girlfriend named Freya, his parents back home in the United States, the promising business education awaiting him at one of the elite schools in Paris.

But of course, he wouldn’t lose any of those things. They would lose him.

Truthfully, the consequences of losing Caleb aren’t that deep. Not yet. The university would find a new name to fill a seat and write a check. His girlfriend would be devastated but at only age 19 herself, not broken. His parents would suffer for the rest of their lives. However, they do not depend on their son. Caleb is not responsible for anyone.

So — why not swing your ankles off a cliff? What could possibly go wrong?

My new friend’s fearlessness reminds me strongly of the sea of 20-something single people flooding the Internet today telling us life would be easier if you took a risk. Just take a leap of faith!

“Why not quit your job? What could possibly go wrong?”
“Why not start a business? What could possibly go wrong?”
“Why not buy real estate? What could possibly go wrong?”

In general, the message is: you will bounce back. This sounds good on the surface. Maybe it’s true for you.

But maybe that isn’t the case. Maybe what could possibly “go wrong” is you drag your family through hell, default on your mortgage, and lose very real relationship credibility. Maybe the potential risk of fallout from your actions spreads further with each passing year.

10 years ago, the only person to suffer from an idea gone wrong would be me. Now, my wife suffers, my nephews suffer, my colleagues suffer, my team suffers.

I am not saying don’t take chances.

I am saying guard your mind from advice that isn’t meant for you.

This statement — “what could possibly go wrong” is not a delusion for the authors of such content. Of course, the authors of this content can take risks (or at least, write about taking risks). They have nothing to lose. However, it might be foolish of you to take their advice as gospel.

If you’re a husband, a father, a wife, or a leader, remember this: your life isn’t the only one at stake anymore.

Think twice before hanging off a cliff.

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