On The Importance Of Risk
Risk is an odd word, isn’t it? We often associate risk with its ties to negative connotations. If something’s a risk, it’s generally an indication there’s a possible chance of harm or loss. When was the last time someone gave you that knowing wince? You know, the squinty eyes followed all too quickly by the sharp draw of breath? I bet it didn’t feel too good being told whatever it was you were doing was a ‘risk’. I bet it made you want to stop doing whatever it was straight away. The fact of the matter though, being that, without these risks one simply falls into the perhaps all too sneaky trap of becoming monotonous. We conform to the mundanities of everyday life, for all its routines and rhythms, and soon, we forget all that ever made us feel alive. Because when we look back to those moments in time, the ones where we really felt it – life – we realise they were made up entirely of risk. The risk of meeting someone new, the risk of daring to steal a goodnight kiss on the porch of a date, the absolute guaranteed risk of daring to wear our hearts on our sleeves, to speak our minds and contribute. No, it’s something that’s been made a dirty concept – and we have suffered dearly.
Upon leaving University, I was told I was to go and find myself a job – any job – because I needed to start earning money and pay my way. It was not surprisingly a time riddled with tough decisions. Did I thrust myself into any money paying job? Should I forget all hopes of the career I had worked four years earning a degree and skill-set for? I had no idea. A friend of mine had been over at my place for the entire summer, living rather luxuriously rent free, but chasing her dreams nonetheless. She was training to become an Actress, and probably one of the most driven human beings I’d ever had the privilege of meeting. Knowing her, if anything else, did set off the clogs in my brain. Why shouldn’t I be that driven? Why shouldn’t I stick to my guns and go for what I wanted – what I really wanted – which of course was to become an important writer. And so I did what anyone with a flicker of a dream and ounce of defiance would do; I called off the job search, and I announced I would be thereon writing a book, and only writing a book. This would mean long, tedious hours spent huddled up over some clunking keyboard, shed loads of coffee and mountains of highlighted books – references, surely, pouring out of my ears.
I started from scratch. I picked my topic, I did my research, wrote out some sample chapters and outlined the work. Locating similar books became an obsession. In the time spent searching and noting down points to later revisit, I had lost my sense of risk. Where was it? Well you could argue I’d spent my fair share of it on sticking to my guns and attempting to make what I love my career, or you could call it stupid. It’s a debate I’ll more than happily have with anyone who so cares to indulge in it. But no, it was later the real risk came, the one that had my anxiety kicking in and self-doubt sparking up. It was the risk I took when I reached out to other writers. Established writers, whom I had come to read and love and respect throughout the process. Tom Chatfield, author of How To Survive In The Digital Age and FUN INC, was first on my list. Since his work was something I’d largely reference throughout the writing of my own, I wanted to know everything I could about it. What was his process for writing his books? How did he land his publisher? What in his eyes made a book work? It was late one evening when I shot off an email. It was lengthy and no doubt weighed down with a series of excitable questions. In all honesty, I hadn’t entirely considered a reply; my brain was too busy malfunctioning at the thought of him even reading it – of Tom Chatfield receiving my email and judging me solely on it. But when it came, the reply, everything that risk had taken for me to make seemed right. Not only had he replied but he was also asking me to lunch, so as to better answer my queries.
Equipped with pen and pad, I sat consumed wholly by my dreams of being an important writer on the train to London – my smile perhaps a touch too wide for those also aboard the 9am service. I spent the majority of the journey constructing an anxious sounding text to arrange a meeting point and then waited outside London Bridge tube station – shoulder bag heavy, newly formed questions heavier. Would he tell me something I didn’t want to hear? Would the truth crush my dreams of becoming a writer? These things plagued my mind. To be truthful I need not have worried about the initial meet, he was extremely understanding, and instantly offered to give a tour around this particular side of London. We passed crowds of working plenty, cut across roads in front of racing taxi drivers, and took the quiet back routes towards what I’d come to know as one of the nicest restaurants on the river front – Cote. Over lunch, he entertained every question I had ever thought up. How he got into writing books, his journalistic past, the promising sound of my ideas. Whilst I was working out what to do with the stones of my olives, he was firing off captivating bursts of dialogue about Technology and Consumerism and authors I should most definitely read. I absorbed it all.
After dinner, Chatfield invited me to a Tech event he’d himself been asked to cover. It was regarding the latest gadgets and gizmos, that were being revealed to journalists and investors alike. Each stall lit up like Christmas with great splashes of colour on advertisement boards, new shiny products; of particular note were some new VR headsets – similar to the Oculus Rift, and gripping the audience all-the-same. I gathered some flyers and research material, drinking in the events atmosphere as though it were all that could quench this thirst I had – the thirst for this lifestyle – the writer’s life. I wanted to be invited to events like this all the time, for people to know me by name and work. I wanted people to hang on my every word. And Tom Chatfield gave me, for the slightest of moments, exactly that. Without the risk taken, the idea I’d had for the book would still be just that – an idea. I just needed for someone to sit with me, for someone to take the time, and to take the risks I’d always shied away from prior.
I invite you all to take that risk today, whether it be exercising, daring to write, daring to shoot off that email or just daring to read those books you never thought you could. You never know where it might just lead you, or who you might just meet.