February 10, 2003
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.

Posted by Wally at February 10, 2003 11:47 AM

You don't just teach it, you do it. Creating a blog and committing to it, as you've requested of your students, is an admirable thing to do. Some professors would give the assignment but not make the effort of doing it themselves.

I agree with the idea of what could be called "planned risk." You have to take risks to get to where you are going, and in doing so you will, at times, fail. But, if you were prepared, from that failure, growth is the result. Put another way, "We learn from our mistakes." The key is in the planning and preparing for the risk-taking events which lie ahead.


Posted by: Marvin E. Colburn on February 11, 2003 12:32 AM


Thanks for the essay and its admonition to develop and exercise the life discipline of risk taking. It provokes the posing of some questions.

What is the governable conception of desirable life outcomes to which risk taking is the recommended means? Do pop culture images of extreme living (X games, reality TV, etc.) provide Ďproperí incentives to disciplined risk taking? Is the variety of forms of personal growth equally valuable as by-products of risk taking? What risks are more conducive to the achievement of a great soul then a prosperous and comfortable life?

Blog on.

Posted by: michael jennings on February 11, 2003 06:33 PM

Thanks, Wally, for the uncomfortable words. So true that we have to reach beyond our serene means and just jump into the great mystery of life! I agree fully. Blog on.

Posted by: Darby on February 11, 2003 09:51 PM


Popculture as a popular incentive? Nah. The risk I am talking about is that we take for growth, not for an adrenal rush. And I think such risks--the ones that result in personal growth-- are all valuable, but not equally so. I am not ready to tackle the question about goverance (wait for the book) :) But I am thinking a lot about the last question. look for a blog on that next week.

Posted by: Wally on February 11, 2003 10:12 PM
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