Updated: Feb 10, 2019
Terry ponders his life's lessons by taking or not taking risks.
When most people hear the word “risk”, their hands might get clammy and images of danger and peril loom in the back of their minds. At a young age, we were taught that safety and complacency were normal and anything that involved the possibility of harm or death should be avoided at all costs. I would like to share my personal experience with danger and risk.
Looking back at my formative years, I have come to realize that we are taught to fear the unknown. As children, we are fearless. We do not have the personal experience or perspective to avoid those things that actually might cause us harm. Instead, our elders (parents, grandparents or teachers) install in us their own sense of danger. We could be playing in our front yards, exploring our environments or creating new worlds in our minds. One time, I climbed a railing on my porch and started to imagine I was walking a plank on a pirate ship. Everything was fine as I carefully balanced myself four feet above the ground. Suddenly, I mother screamed, “Watch out! You are going to fall and break your neck!” Her well-intentioned warning had caused me to lose my balance and I fell into the ocean. Luckily for me, nothing happened to me physically but I did start my life-long internal dialogue to worry that danger lurked most when I was taking risks.
In high school, I tried to find balance between safety and flirting with danger. As an American Indian student within a mostly-white high school, I tried to do as the Natives do and I kept to my own kind while avoiding the dominant society’s idea of education. However, that didn’t last long. I enjoyed making friends with my fair-skinned classmates and the outside world fascinated me. I excelled at subjects most Native students would avoid: math, science, French, music and photography. The world was a big place and I wanted to see it! In my junior year, I decided to graduate high school a year early, so I could attend college and start the rest of my life “ASAP”. At the time, I had no idea what kind of risk I was taking. Three months after turning seventeen, I was sitting in a classroom at Pace University in New York City.
As a management major, the first two years of college were unchallenging and boring. I felt that the buildup to my major core studies were just two more years of high school. My impatience had me take a leave of absence from school while I got my first job in an investment bank on Wall Street. I spent the next two years working beside highly paid bankers while I entered their million dollar trade tickets into the computer. Feeling financially stable but creatively unchallenged, I returned back to school full time. My first semester was going swimmingly until I lost my funding to return the next semester. With no place to turn, I begrudgingly returned back to the reservation in self-defeat. At 22 years of age, I was a washed up failure. Laying in my bed in the dark, I retraced my life’s path and I vowed to never try again because it only ended in major disappointment.
What lesson did I learn from the two years of “not” trying to fail? I learned that when you protect your so vehemently from failure, you also prevent yourself from succeeding. Just like my imaginary plunge from my pirate plank, I survived. Every life decision I have made since, good or bad, has not killed me. I’ve learned to embrace life’s risks. Whenever I feel like I am set for a failure, I do not fall. I dive right in!