Thursday, March 3, 2011

A life of contentment vs. a life of risk

A while back, during my usual morning healthcare/EHR reading, I came across a blog article that argued that a life without risks is no life at all. The author was talking about marriage specifically (I'm not sure how that made it through my "electronic health record" and "meaningful use" Google alerts, but I read it anyway), but he also talked about doing crazy things like cliff diving and bunji jumping. In short, he argued that the value of life is at its highest when risks are involved.

I've thought about this a lot over the past few months. I do have an adventurous side that prompts me to ride the scary roller coasters, test out the water skis, outperform my competitors, and eat giant hamburgers. I drive a stick, stick to a tight budget, read really long books, and try to figure out the intricacies of modern healthcare because I enjoy a good challenge. But I don't think that I'm a risk taker.

I first realized this when I spent 4 months without a steady job and spent a lot of time trying to build up some sort of freelance reputation. I wasn't very successful. I think the reason for this is that I don't like to invest in anything when I can't see the final outcome. It was extremely difficult putting myself out there and making myself "stand out" when deep down I knew it wasn't going to make any difference.

I've also noticed that when I wrote papers for school, my first thought would be, "How can I implement my teacher's opinions into this?" rather than "What is my stance on this issue?" I soon discovered that my best grades came about when I sucked up to the teacher rather than went out on a limb and defended my own radical stance. It was safer to just go with what the teacher wanted to see.

And as for as jumping off of stuff, I know I won't be hanging out with my grandkids a million years from now thinking, "Gee, I sure wish I had jumped off of something really far away from the ground when I was your age." I don't live for that kind of thrill.

My philosophy has always been to do what needed to be done--and nothing more. I worked my butt off through college because, honestly, that was easier and less stressful than applying for every scholarship I could find. I applied myself in the classes I thought were relevant for a future career, and didn't concentrate too much on the irrelevant ones (such as that stupid, hair-pulling foreign language requirement. Yes, I see the value in learning a foreign language, but if I want to be ignorant in that area I think I should be allowed to be so). I cared more about learning than I did about achieving a perfect GPA. I completed 2 BYU internships because I hoped that it would give potential employers a legitimate excuse to give me a second glance.

Even in a non-academic/professional setting, I abided by the same basic precepts. I didn't show off my piano abilities unless I had to. I rarely spoke up because I knew that eventually someone would say what I was thinking.

In short, I am content with a contented life.

However, it is still important to take risks, to jump out into the dark and float around for awhile before something catches you. The risks we take add a lot of color to our lives. So, my contentness with life has hurt me in some areas.

Particularly the dating area.

I've always known that I would marry an awesome guy some day, so I haven't worried about my single situation that much. I never saw the point in dating if it wasn't going to go anywhere, which is probably why I've never had a real relationship; I haven't ever been willing to go out on a limb with someone I was unsure about. So I stay contentedly single. I can say this now because I am graduated from BYU--I enjoy being single. I like that I don't have to plan my life around someone else and share all of my stuff. I have developed relationships with my family and friends that I never would have developed if I always had my boy to hang out with. Yes, marriage is my highest goal in life, and I do wish that I had that special someone who knew everything about me and who made me smile for no reason, but to get that I would have to learn how to flirt or something. I don't like making a fool out of myself, so I have never mastered that particular ability. Thus, I stay in the safe, yet frustrating, single environment.

On the other hand, being a risk taker can also leave you with nothing. For example, when I was offered a job at ChartLogic, I was still waiting to hear back from two other job prospects that I felt much more qualified for and that fit my particular interests better. However, I took the first job that was offered anyway, rather than hoping I got my "dream job" somewhere else. I don't know what would have happened if I had not accepted this job, but I have no regrets. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I love my job, not just that I like my job and am content with the way things are going. I trained myself up for a desk job rather than a saving-the-world type job, and that's where I am happiest.

So my grand conclusion comes down to this: moderation. It is good, healthy, to take risks in life, especially when it comes to major, life-changing decisions. None of us get a guarantee when we enter a marriage contract or start a new career--we just have to do our part and hope things work out. Risks have a way of reminding you what is really important in life and helping you stick to your goals. And, they add a lot of crucial flavor. Life is meant to be enjoyed, after all.

However, it is just as important to be content with what you have. Constantly taking risks just to give you a thrill or new challenge isn't going to keep you happy--sometimes what we have is all we're going to get, so we might as well be happy about it. I have never had everything I wanted at once, and I'm pretty sure I never will. Life is meant to be enjoyed, but we can't enjoy it if we don't know how to find joy in the journey.

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