Cost vs Benefit: When Should You Risk it All?
When I first introduced Use the Good Dishes, I promised that living our best lives didn’t necessarily mean accomplishing huge feats like climbing mountains or running marathons (although I actually accomplished both this year; they were metaphorical, but I’m a writer so that counts). Using the good dishes was just about finding that truth inside you, the little light that was put there to guide your path, and letting it lead you into the best life possible.
But what if your light demands you do hard things? What happens when it wants you to climb the mountain? What if there’s a race it insists you run?
When is it right to risk it all for a truth that burns inside you? When do we ignore conventional wisdom in favor of heeding our own? From launching a business to leaving (or starting) a relationship to gambling on a new country or career, is there ever a right time to go big? Or should we really just stay home?
For the last year - two, really - I’ve been struggling with frighteningly, ferociously huge choices. The kind that set your feet permanently on one path or another. This is heavy stuff. It is hard stuff. These are questions that can only be answered from within, and even when the answer is spelled out in black and white, living it…well, that’s its own struggle.
In the midst of all this wondering and worrying and weighing, a family member, trying to be helpful, asked, “Well, imagine you had only 30 days to live. What would you do then?”
Ahhh, the old “live like you are dying” speech.
I’d tell you to fuck off, for starters, ma’am.
I hate that speech. If I really were dying you know what I wouldn’t do? I wouldn’t go to my dentist appointment next week. You can bet your ass I wouldn’t trouble myself much with my mortgage payment or scheduled oil changes (I don’t get to them on time as it is).
(total detour: what if the maintenance prompts from your car dealer were like, super motivating? “Schedule your oil change today and you’ll really feel like you have your life together!” “Sit in our customer waiting area and be left alone for two whole hours!” “We’re right next door to a bagel shop!” This rant does not fit this post but honestly, I think I’m on to something here. You’re welcome, auto industry.)
Anyway, I get it, the point of the "live like you are dying” speech is to create a sense of urgency. It’s meant to help you clarify what matters to you most so you can live your life accordingly. It is meant to push you into taking the risks you’ve always wanted to take. But you shouldn’t need a terminal diagnosis to know what matters most, or to go after what you truly want. Because the fact is, we are all dying. Every one of us. It’s happening right now, as you sit here reading this post (sorry, I’ll try to speed it up).
You get the one life; just the one. What if your inner guidance is telling you that you’re playing it all wrong?
(Do you see the kind of trouble I get people into? Feel free to go safely back to this nice, quiet post about caramel sauce.)
Which brings us back to the question of, when is the risk worth the reward?
Love or Fear
The general consensus on risk is that the one thing worth risking it all for is love. I’m on board with that. But I have a very different idea of what kind of love that should be. Hint: they don’t make movies about it (but they should).
In a recent post, I told women to do what’s best for them, regardless of what is best for everyone else. A friend whom I respect pushed back, saying that we already have too much of that in the world; the “me first” mentality. I don’t disagree. But doing what’s truly best for you isn’t the same as giving people carte blanche to do whatever the fuck they want, regardless of the damage they cause (sweet Jesus, wear your fucking mask, you asshole). Collectively we are greedier and more self-consumed than ever before. But that’s because we aren’t taking risks for love; we are leading with our egos instead of our true selves (the exact opposite of leading with love), trying to consume all we can in order to fill the holes where love should be. We numb ourselves with consumption and with righteousness and opinion and noise and never ending busy-ness. That isn’t freedom; it’s fear and addiction and entitlement.
Mostly it is fear.
When it comes to truly pursuing freedom - being lead by your own truth instead of by fear or by dictum - most of us are failing. Women most of all..
It’s like the spiritual equivalent of equal pay.
But it isn’t just women who struggle to live in their truth or follow their light. It’s anyone who has been beaten down by life; anyone who did not get the love they deserved, or the childhood they deserved; anyone who wasn’t taught their worth, or who has settled for less, or been lonely for too long.
Even when life has been kind (as it so rarely is) we are all of us beaten down by conditioning and expectation. And so we become silent, numb adults, following the path they told us to follow, and waiting, always waiting, for life to begin.
When we’re young, we spend so much of our energy trying to make things happen; always trying to be something, do something, go somewhere. Then somewhere along the way our priorities shift, and we find ourselves instead trying to prevent things from happening. We stop pursuing joy and instead, try to prevent pain; to prevent change.
Fear is the most powerful force in the world, save only for love. And the two are constantly at odds. Like a miserably married couple, only one can be in charge, and both parties think it should be them.
With every single choice we make, large and small, we are always walking either toward love or toward fear - without exception.
So when it comes to risk - and I mean, the life changing kind - how do we know which one to trust?
The immortal Maya Angelou once said (actually, she tweeted it if I’m being honest), “Whenever I make a choice with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.”
It is my belief that it is good and right, and even necessary, to at least once in this life risk everything you think is keeping you safe in pursuit of love, if that love is the love of yourself. If your inner light is telling you what will fulfill you or bring you peace, it is your duty to listen. Anything else is a life lived by halves, and that’s not a life worth living.
But First, Courage
I had a truth inside me for years, one that I denied even to myself until it finally broke through my denial to the surface, causing a lot of collateral damage along the way. But what felt like destruction was actually transformation; every moment of that pain was a gift that has ultimately made me free - and everyone around me, too.
That’s how it works. The truth shall always set you free, but you have to let it break you open first (“What most people don’t understand about heartbreak is that when a heart breaks, it breaks open.” - the amazing Rayya Elias).
So here I am, upending my life, breaking things I built so carefully and thoughtfully, doing things I never dreamed I would do, because if I don’t, I will grow small. Because the pain of denying what I know is finally greater than the pain that acknowledging it will cause everyone else.
It has taken me a very (very) long time to get here. I have wrestled fear - absolute terror - and guilt and shame and grief. But I am here at last, in part because there is a little girl watching me and learning from me how to live; she is learning from me what courage looks like; what love should look like; what it means to love yourself and live from a place of truth. I am giving her permission to be who she is and do what’s right for her by finally, at 41 years old, doing it for myself.
So when is it right to take the risk - to live in the full truth of who you are and do what sets your soul on fire (or at the very least, lets you sleep in peace at night)? It’s always right to risk it all for love, if the person you’ve fallen in love with is you.
The most beautiful thing about living fully - and this came straight from my therapist, who NY State assures me is an authority on the subject - is that when we become whole and stand in our truth, we give other people permission to do the same. We become a safe space. When we let love drive, we create even more love in the world.
So roll the dice, pal. Stand in your truth and live the best, most beautiful life you can imagine for yourself, so that maybe somewhere, someone will be inspired to do the same.
Or just because you have finally figured out that you deserve that kind of happiness, too. If the only person you inspire is yourself, that will be enough.
What are you doing with your one wild and precious life?