top of page

The "Doing Risk"

Doing can be a threat. After all, it's not until you try something that you actually find out how bad you are at it. Skills take time to learn. I mean, you can tell the world, and yourself, that if only you had the time you could make beautiful (fill in the blank), run a marathon, cook like Julia Child, etc. But until you get out there and actually do something you'll never really know whether you can do it or not. Your life remains vicarious. Call in a professional. Get an "expert" to tackle it. Open another six-pack and plug in a video.

On the other hand, if what you're looking for isn't accolade, or the instant status of "expert", then what have you really got to lose by actually doing something instead of dreaming about it? Really.

A friend of mine is restoring a boat. He's no expert. He's a computer type who's never actually worked much with tools. The boat is a 20 year old build-in-your-backyard-in-your-spare-time arrangement. It's not a classic. When I look at it a part of me, the part that really enjoys and appreciates wooden boats as functional art, says 'don't bother'. That boat's had a great life, but it's lived out its useful life. A two by four and plywood boat probably doesn't merit the time and energy to restore.

That part of me is wrong. That part of me is being a snob. I look in Michael's eyes and I see joy and excitement at attempting this project. I see him with tools in his hands and a smile on his face dreaming about the fun he'll have in this boat whether she sails sideways or not. He's doing something, something different, something physical, and he feels wonderful about it.

What's the worst thing that could happen? He restores her badly? Yeah, so? She'll still be better off than she was rotting in the yard at his friend's camp. He spends too much money on the restoration? Not likely on a 15' plywood boat. Actually, I think the worst thing that could possible happen is that some know-it-all wise guy like me comes up and tells him what a lousy job he's doing and how he's wasting his time and money.

Michael is taking the 'doing risk'. He is trying something he's never done before and taking the risk that he'll fail. Failure is anathema in this country. To fail at something is to be a failure, a fate surely worse than death in our society of experts.

When did we become a society of "experts"? When did we lose that sense of doing? How did we learn to be afraid of picking up a new tool, trying a new project, learning a new skill? Wasn't this state built by the hands of those before us? People who just faced a problem and figured it out? They failed sometimes. We've all seen badly built boats or houses crumble into the sea. Bread burns sometimes. "Fixes" don't always hold. Yeah, so? So fix it again. Do it better this time, because you learned from the first time. Where did we learn to be afraid to try and fail and try again?

Children are allowed to fail, for a while, until they learn the "rules". Yet I fear that most children know by the time they hit kindergarten who can kick a soccer ball, who is "smart", who is "musical". I fear it is only a matter of time before they learn, taking their cue from the adults in our society, their role models, that early is better than late for finding your niche and fitting into it. Pick your field of interest and concentrate there. Let other "experts" handle the other things. Don't risk the possibility of failure. Don't stretch and grow and learn. Be good in your field. It's enough.

I do fear for these children. What have we sacrificed for the privilege of not taking that doing risk?

But maybe it won't happen. Maybe one or two of them will see Michael some Saturday out there pulling out rotten screws from soggy plywood. Maybe they'll even ask to help. Maybe they'll see doubt and indecision as Michael figures out how to do something that is totally new to him. Maybe, and oh how I pray for this, they'll see the joy in his face as he's out there doing something. Maybe it will give them courage to do the same.


bottom of page