First, Accept Reality

Fellow Riskologist,

You’re reading this because you have a big plan. You want to do something great with your life and you’re taking a risk to do it.

You’re reading this because you want to know, “Will I succeed?” You want some inspiration and reassurance that you can do it. I’m afraid the only answer I can give you is, “I don’t know. It depends.”

But what does it depend on? I’ve written nearly twice a week for three years about what it depends on—and I have a lifetime yet to go—but one thing I’m sure of is that you will not succeed in any great risk unless you:

  1. fully understand the reality of your situation, and
  2. accept it.

In my time running AR, I’ve had the pleasure to read many different opinions and essays about how to “succeed at [insert anything here].”

A common battle cry among bloggers today seems to be, “Ignore reality and the world as it is! Do your own thing, and don’t worry about the status quo!”

These kinds of pieces always spike my inspiration and rogue spirit, but then quickly fade. The problem is the rallying call sounds good, but it doesn’t actually work when implemented.

I can forgive the life design community (for lack of a better term) for perpetuating the myth. Look at nearly anyone society admires and you’ll see someone who bucked all the trends, listened to no one, and charged forward with their own idea of what the world should look like.

But this just half the story. Look a little deeper and you’ll also see someone who dedicated him or herself to understanding and working with their world as it existed.

When Gandhi lead the fight for independence in India, he didn’t just start talking and stop eating, he studied and fully understood the politics of the region, as well as the politics of the British occupiers and used that knowledge in his strategy. That’s why Pakistan exists.

From the surface, it looked like Steve Jobs spent his life dreaming up toys on a whim from his imagination, building a wildly successful tech company. But really, Apple’s innovation didn’t come from sheer imagination, it came from Steve (and a very smart group of people he surrounded himself with) truly understanding the problems everyday people had with technology. He spent his whole life studying people as they were so he could build things they’d enjoy and find useful.

And NASA would have never made it to the moon if all they had to go on was a speech from President Kennedy for inspiration. They had to hire the smartest engineers in the world who studied the moon and how to get there and back with the technology that existed at the time.

You’d do well to look at your own ambitions as if you were an engineer in the 1960s trying to go to the moon.

You’d need a lot more than the encouragement that “you can do it” or that you’re “full of potential waiting to be unlocked.” You’d need to study the goal, all the resources available to you, and the roadblocks ahead. You’d need to become a master scholar who fully understood the world around him before setting to work assembling and moving those things around in a way that hasn’t been done before.

But you can’t do something new and interesting until you know what’s old and uninteresting.

If many have failed on the path you’re embarking on, you must be a scholar of failure. You have to see the roadblocks to not run into them.

The path to wild and exciting success begins much earlier with tame and boring research.

  • Are you intimately familiar with the risk you’re taking?
  • Are you a relentless scholar of both success and failure?
  • Do you accept that you won’t change anything until you fully understand why what needs to be changed exists in the first place?

Those are three questions you might ask yourself before setting off down the same road so many others who didn’t ask those questions have before.

So, will you succeed? I don’t know. But I do know knowledge and understanding always leads to confidence. And once you have that, you don’t need to ask anymore.

Yours in risk-taking,