The only way to avoid risks is never to have lived at all. – Winston Churchill
What does that mean?
The complete quote is quite a bit longer, and is included at the bottom of the post. It is a full paragraph which starts by questioning the incorrect notion that we have an entitlement to safety or security, and concludes by enumerating a long list of things which present us with risks.
To live is to risk. We risk death every time we eat or drink. Yes, it’s possible we could die. People die that way every day. However it is very rare, and we know that not eating will risk death as well, right?
And that is what the quote is saying. Doing things is risky. Not doing things is also risky. Just being alive is risky. The only person without risk is the person who does not exist, the person who has, as the quote says, never lived at all.
Why is learning to live with risk important?
All that we do involves risk. There are risks of commission, the things we risk by doing. There are also risks of omission, the things we risk when we fail to do. We risk rejection when we try to make a friend. We risk never having that friend when we fail to approach them.
There is no risk-free environment. We can manage risks so that we might minimize the damage done, but they cannot be completely eliminated. We can also work on our tolerance of risk, learning what we can and cannot handle.
But the alternative is worse than doing nothing, for even in doing nothing we are putting what might have been at risk as well. No, as the quote says, the only way to completely avoid risks is to never have lived. At all. To never have been, that is the only person completely without risk.
Where can I apply this in my life?
We could take some time to make a list of the risks we take every day, from eating and drinking to walking around the house. We could take some time and make a list of all the things we consider so risky that we would never do them. But what would that tell us?
Life is rarely lived in the extremes, unless you’re a professional dare-devil, which is just another name for people who take risks we would be uncomfortable taking ourselves. The bulk of our lives, our ‘average’ days, are lived between those two extremes.
What are we going to do to manage these risks? On what do we base our belief that something is risky? To what do we compare it, when we decide how we will label an activity? Have we done something like it, or are we just guessing?
Have you ever taken some time to consider how you determine how risky an activity is, in your opinion? What could you do to change the perception or understanding of the risk involved? Once you better understand it, what can you do to limit the risk?
While sky diving still has some risks, I went with a guy with hundreds of dives to his credit, and he helped me understand what was going to happen. This ‘inside knowledge’ was enough for me to change the risk factor from ‘insane’ to ‘sounds like fun,’ and we did it.
Having someone there to explain it to me, someone with experience and whom I trusted was a big part of it. Having him then check the place out and ask the questions necessary to confirm the competence of the people involved in the business.
perceived risk reduced by learning and understanding what is really going on? Check. Actual risk reduced by a checkout by a knowledgeable expert? Check. Exiting an airplane at altitude that wasn’t on fire or preparing to crash? Check. Risk still present? Yes, but considered to be acceptable.
What risks are holding you back? What aren’t you enjoying in your life because you are averse to certain activities you consider risky? This isn’t a call to do something stupid or dangerous, but to understand yourself and why you deem things risky or not.
So far, everything we have discussed has been about risks to life and limb, but I believe this quote, and this discussion, apply to our social life, our emotional life, our spiritual life, as well as our life in business (whether owner or worker) as well.
By knowing what your reasons are, you can choose to challenge some of your preconceived notions and take some calculated risks. What are you risking by action or inaction in all of the different areas of your life? That might be something to think about and do something about.
The full quote, in context, is as follows: “We ought not to be afraid of running risks. Since when have we learned that we are entitled to security in this transitory world of chance and illusion? The only way to avoid risks is never to have lived at all. Choosing a career is a risk. Marrying is a risk. Childbirth is a risk. All around the most careful man every breath he draws, every step he takes, every mouthful he eats are hazards that may be mortal.” – Winston Churchill, quoted in ‘My Darling Clementine,’ a bio of his wife.