I've been thinking a lot about taking risks in these days. Because you know, we're about the take the biggest risk of our married life: we're going to buy a farm.
I'm no stranger to risk; I was a foreign exchange student in high school, attended college in a different country thousands of miles away from my small hometown, and served a mission overseas teaching others about Jesus Christ in a foreign language. We started a business with almost nothing when I was pregnant with our first child. We lived in Europe with a toddler when I was pregnant with our second. We bought a short sale in awful condition and lived in a construction zone for months with two little boys under four. I went back to school when our youngest was still breastfeeding. We've done quite a few "risky" things in our time.
And so, in the year of our tenth anniversary, selling our house in anticipation of a cross-country move and spending more than 3 months living in our car, in a tent, and on the couches of generous friends and family didn't seem like that big of a deal. Except now we're at the tail end of those 3 months on the road and on the threshold of making a big, dream-come-true, real-life, grown-up decision, and the risk of that decision looms over us - big, dark, and scary.
I'm sure you've done this on the eve of your big decisions: you go over the list of pros and cons again. And again. And again. You crunch the numbers: the "if it all goes swimmingly" ones and the "if everything falls apart spectacularly" ones. You worry incessantly and obsessively about the could-bes and the what-ifs and the I-don't-knows. You talk yourself out of it. And then you talk yourself into it again. You're afraid to make the wrong decision. You're afraid the risk is too big. You're afraid you won't be able to make it work.
The thing is - dreams are not without fear. Let's just get that out in the open. It's scary to make big decisions. It's scary to embark on a path you can't see the end of. It's scary to do things you've never done before. In fact, I don't think you can make life-changing decisions and chase big-time dreams without experiencing some of the biggest, scariest fears, worries, and anxieties of your life. I'm learning that if you choose to go after big dreams, you can't expect to do so without facing the fear. But that's how you grow - not by avoiding or denying or shrinking from the fear, but by confronting it, accepting it, and moving past it.
How do you do that? I'm not totally sure yet (I'm still in the shadow of the big fear), but these things are helping:
1. Make decisions based on your values.
We have a clear vision of what it is we want for our family and what is most important to us. Not all the details, of course - we work those out as we go along. But we've got the big-picture stuff sketched out. This makes decisions (especially the big ones) a little easier to make. Does this fit with our family values? Will it help us grow? Will it get us closer to where we want to be? Will it make us a stronger family? And those answers inevitably shape our decisions. Tsh from The Art of Simple (one of my favorite people) is a big advocate of this and has great resources to help you get your own family values on paper.
2. Be realistic about your current skills, abilities, and resources.
Big dreams take lots of work. Ours includes a working family farm. We've learned to realistically assess what we do know and what we don't yet know and make plans to fill in those gaps. Those plans have to figure into the number crunching and the time-frame planning otherwise they'll throw a wrench into your whole big-dream scheme. Read books. Take classes. Ask lots and lots and lots of questions. Make lists and take notes. There's always a lot to learn - which brings me to the next point.
3. Do your research.
When you're working on a big-dream scheme, you've got to account for all of the factors that will contribute to your success and that could be stumbling blocks. Talk to others who've done what you want to do. Talk to people in your field. Talk to those you consider successful. Ask them about their journey (because dreaming and accomplishing big-time goals is a journey - you've got to know that up front); ask for advice; ask them about what they wish they'd known when they started and things they'd wish they'd done differently. Experience is a valuable thing and you'll get plenty of that on your own - but if you're open and teachable, you can learn a great deal from the experiences of those who've blazed the trail ahead of you.
4. Have faith in yourself and your plan.
It would be easy to second-guess and out-worry all your hard work and careful planning and big-dream scheming. There's always something to worry about. There are a million ways that things could go wrong (and in my experience, at least half of them will). But if you let the worry take over, you'll never grow. If you always play it safe, you'll never live the dream.
There are hundreds of proverbs we could insert here (if you don't leap, you'll never fly; the future belongs to those who believe in the future of their dreams; don't follow your dreams, chase them - you get the picture), but the things is, at some point, you've got to take the bull by the horns (see what I did there?) and just do it. Just get out there and do it. Make that big decision. Take that huge leap.
In the end, even if it is a total failure (which if you're making decisions based on your values, are realistic about your skills, and have done your research, is unlikely) - it's really just an opportunity to learn. Didn't Henry Ford say that? "Every failure is an opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely." Yes, I think he did. And for good reason.
Every experience helps us to grow (even the ones we might think didn't turn out all that well) and I believe that that is one of the most essential and important purposes of life - to grow, to be authentic to our deepest desires and biggest dreams, and to discover and become the best version of ourselves we can.
A couple weeks ago, the topic in church was pioneers (a person who begins or helps develop something new and prepares the way for others to follow). The speaker said: "We are making pioneering decisions. Look back on your heritage, look to those decisions your forefathers have made that you are proud of. And look forward and consider the decisions you make today that your children and grandchildren will be proud of." My goodness. That spoke directly to my heart and it still does.
This is what I want our children to know: Risk is scary. Big decisions are scary. But they make you grow and will likely be the moments you look back on and are the most proud of. We can do hard things. We can learn and make mistakes and do better. And that is what is most important. The risks, the ones that fit your family values, that you're realistic about, have researched, and are prepared to take on, are totally worth it. Get out there and do it. Make it happen.