Rethink Risk


Note: This is a post from Adam Baker, founder of Man Vs. Debt.

Most of us are taught to view risk through the lens of losing something.

What could I lose if I make this decision?

If we could lose much, it’s risky.

If we could lose very little, it’s not that risky.

Sounds pretty simple. But here’s a secret:

By nature, whenever humans estimate potential loss – we grossly exaggerate it.

Not only that, but we want to hold on to what we have now far more than we want more of something new.

These two tendencies keep us trapped.

Trapped in fear of an exaggerated loss. Trapped in fear of an inflated risk.

Instead, I’ve carved out a new definition of risk for my major decisions in life.

Will I deeply regret not having the courage to make this decision?

One of my friends wants to travel to every country in the world. That’s amazing! But personally I don’t feel like I’d look back and regret not accomplishing that in my life, so passing on that decision or goal isn’t very risky for me.

On the other hand, I had a moment where I decided that if I didn’t take the leap to create a documentary from scratch… I would have regretted letting the opportunity pass.

There’s a million reasons NOT to do the documentary. There’s a hundred different reasons people would say it’s “risky.”

But if I would’ve skipped taking the shot, I would have looked back later and said, “Damn, I wish I would have had the courage to take that shot when I had it.”

To me, that’s risky.

Risk is not the chance you’ll act and lose something important.

Risk is the chance you’ll look back and regret not having the courage to act on something meaningful.


27 thoughts on “Rethink Risk”

  1. Holy bejesus I am totally hearing this call to action Baker.

    I was freaked out to make a huge leap in my business as I knew I was jumping into unknown territory. But I freakin’ did it anyways. Why, because I acknowledged from day one that I was gonna make mistakes. But risking making mistakes was a deal I knew I could handle. I NEED to make mistakes cause how the hell am I gonna go forward without making them.

    And you know what happened when I launched my idea that had been brewing for a year? Wild out pouring of interest, sales, cash, new job opportunities. But best of all– the knowledge that my crazy ass idea is an actual real business model and I have a real job now (taking people to Italy and showing them the best damn time of their lives). Ha ! SERIOUSLY!

    If I had let the risk factor overwhelm me I wouldn’t have put one step in front of the other. Which is what separates the action takers from the dreamers. Not be be harsh but this is the only thing that will allow you to see your ideas grow or not see them at all.

    Thanks Baker! I love the kick in the ass truth bombs. Uncomfortable but never boring!
    xx Bianca

  2. I like the way you defined risk. It so makes sense. I am printing this to show it to my husband.

    On another note, this is how I decide which assignments I take and which I don’t take. This is how I think about another pregnancy. I know I will regret not having another child. It’s not ok to know that I may never know another precious life.

    Anyway, thank you for this post. 🙂

  3. The current risk I’m taking is selling the house I’ve owned about 4 years, and moving about 5-6 states West, to be nearer my grandson, and in a higher population area, so that my middle son who shares a home with me can find a wider array of adult disability services. I hope to purchase a house in the new area, but we may; 1] camp out for awhile there after selling here, 2] end up staying here thru another midwest winter, bleh, or 3] who knows?
    That’s the fun and risk of risk !!! BTW, I’m 59 years old.

  4. I’m waiting for a call re: salary info on a job I’m not sure I want. It would require sacrificing quite a lot, for not great pay, but for a good cause.

    I’ll take the timing as a sign.

  5. I’ve started my own business, and started to get involved in the real estate business… sounds like this would be a real bad time to do that right? Well, not so right. I’ve found plenty of opportunities, and hope to make enough money to lose my Day Job. So far it is looking better and better…

    I’m working on my 3rd “flip” house – doing it MY way, not the way everybody else tells me to do it. I LOVE IT and it’s working. I’d thought about it for so many years, but I finally had the courage to jump in and do it, because of alot of factors that all just came together for me. It still is a huge leap of faith… but I’m glad I took it, because I’d be thinking “what if” for the rest of my life if I hadn’t!

  6. I’d regret not going for it when I have a brillant idea that could pay off my mortgage in record time with very little effort. So I’m launching the idea at the end of April.

  7. I love this post and mentality. I feel the exact same, we often think ourselves out of some great experiences or opportunities!

    Sometime it just takes the courage to take a risk and go with your intuition, I for one do not want to reach the end of my life and have regrets.

    So I am trying my darnedest to live regret free… Living Life to the fullest !

  8. I’ve been contemplating risk a lot lately because we are not completely happy in our current work situation. When we were younger we were reckless and we would jump into crazy situations and always make them work. Now we have gotten comfortable and our ‘needs’ have increased and we feel like we’re stuck. Sometimes I am tempted to just go out tomorrow and change the things we don’t like and then do what we’ve always done and make it work. It sounds like a good plan but at the same time I remember how hard it was at times and how much we struggled.

  9. Four years ago I walked away from a nearly 20 year successful business, got married and moved to a country where I didn’t even speak the language while starting my online business . . . A bit “risky?”. Maybe plain insane! Sure it wasn’t smooth sailin’ and still has it moments, but to my mind nothing is riskier than being unwilling to push yourself and force yourself to grow. It isn’t about the things we get or the great stuff we accomplish, it is about the person we become in the process that is the prize! Our “lizard brain” thinks it is serving us by “keeping us safe,” but in our modern world nothing is more vulnerable than a person who has no ability to go through BIG changes and turmoil and learn to make adjustments and take the blows and come out “on top” in the end.

  10. Last year, I made the leap and became a Peace Corps Volunteer at age 34. I thought about waiting til I’d retire, but I knew I would regret if I waited. I wanted to have this experience now. Plus, the bonus was I got to join during Peace Corps 50th year Anniversery. I’ve learned that I don’t need the little things (stuff) that I had back home. Also, life is short do what you want now. I have no regrets on joining. Good luck with your documentary.

  11. I actually have nothing in my life to regret.

    I think the risk I want to make now is to leave my home country for another country, far Asia where I have nobody. Not even a single friend to help me settle down.

    Its either i get things done there i loose everything i sell to go there.


  12. 4 years ago my husband told me he wanted to be a pilot (that’s the short version).

    Within the year, we had sold our house, a car, a motorcycle and bunch of other crap, moved into an apartment with a roommate, and off to pilot school he went. It was the most trying time in both our lives. He lived 3 hours away, in school full time while we lived off my measly salary. We went $60K into debt to pay for school, while he was away I was in a motorcycle accident that landed me in the hospital for 7 days. We joke now that I spent more money that year (or at least health insurance did) that he did on school. 🙂

    Once he was done with school, he did not become a pilot. In fact, I am pretty sure all his licenses have lapsed. Does this bother me? Not one bit.

    I know that our decision to send him to school was exactly the risk we were needing at the time. It was the most terrifying thing he’d ever done and he came out of it a different person. He now has an amazing job working internationally making way more money than should be legal (but it totally is, I promise) that I know he got because of the confidence he gained from his experience with pilot school.

    It was a $60K investment in his self worth, and it was Worth.Every.Penny.

    (side note: The Sallie Mae loan will be paid off this June; 17 years early. Saving us approximately $70K in interest charges. True Story.)

    1. So touching story. That could have tored some other people apart and their world, life and marraige would got broken. Glad to read that you guys are doing pretty great. Will like to interview you too for my blog readers if you don’t mind.


  13. I think it was Francis Chichester who said, ‘In order to take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime, you have to do it within the lifetime of the opportunity’ (or words to that effect).

    1. oop’s, no it wasn’t.
      It was Leonard Ravenhill, and what he said was:

      “the opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity”

      D’oh, that was my opportunity to appear all clever and I blew it!!

  14. “Will I deeply regret not having the courage to make this decision?”

    Wow! That stopped me dead in my tracks.

    That’s an awesome question to ask ourselves in every big decision. If we can learn to look at our decisions not from just from the vantage point of the here and now and the immediate changes, challenges, struggles that would go (temporarily) along with a change, but to change our viewpoint to see them as past tense and see how our lives will have changed as a result of that decision, I think most of us who struggle with regrets and “if only” points in our lives, would do things differently. If we know now (as much as can be known now) that later we’ll regret having not made a decision, a change, a step in a better direction (or at least different direction), we will be more likely to make those decisions for change.

    If status-quo isn’t working, it’s not worth keeping up.

    Awesome. Keep it up Baker!

  15. Pingback: Sunday Savasana, 1st April 2012 – Off The Mat | Everyday enlightenment and straightforward serenity for non-yogis everywhere

  16. Pingback: Palm Sunday Personal Finance Favorites | Young, Cheap Living | Young Adult Personal Finance

  17. I would rather take risks as opportunities to prepare and equip myself with what I need to overcome or thwart the perceived failures. Also, I would rather exaggerate the riskiness of something than be ill-prepared for whatever comes. Exaggeration in this sense for me is okay as long you do not get paralyzed by the fear of a perceived failure. Use the knowledge of “risks” to your advantage instead.

  18. I’m passionate about serving my community and social activism. My current risk is a campaign to try and microfinance the work I am already doing – which is almost all volunteer at this point.

    This, after leaving a job that I had been at for over six years, which had become more about maintaining material comfort than feeling like I was meaningfully contributing to society. The fear of not knowing what came next kept me locked up for a good two or three years. Now, I’m living in that not knowing, doing work that I love, and making all kinds of amazing new relationships.

  19. I’m naturally risk adverse unless I’m like 99% sure of something. My husband still makes fun of me because I’m so risk adverse that I won’t even look into lasik surgery even though it’s a widely accepted surgery – I tell him, it’s always a risk in surgery! Nope, no regrets 🙂

  20. I’d like to add that we are trapped in our fear to actually get the job done. That fear of pulling the trigger and going for it. That fear definitely needs to be embraced and be-friended. It’s never going away. So if you except it, it just gets easier to deal with in the future.

    Great read Adam!

  21. Hi Baker,

    I just wanted to say thank you so much for your blog and all you do! You have given me the courage to start my own blog, and your openness and transparency on here has inspired me to do the same, and it is so refreshing!!!

    Thanks so much,
    Jamie Falahee

  22. There is little chance of reward, without some risk.
    Fear is a powerful motivator (or De-motivator) in many cases. Fear of the unknown, fear of doing it wrong, fear of loss.

    The thing is, we never really know how much time we have left in this this. We should all be afraid NOT to take risks, since we shall lament on opportunity lost.

    I’ve learned that things rarely work out as bad as you anticipate. Better to pull the band-aid off fast, then ensure the slow agony of uncertainty.

  23. I love that you used a picture from the Risk board game on this post. I always found it interesting that when all seemed lost in that game people had a tendency to retreat to a single familiar territory and await their inevitable final battle. That makes for an exciting end to the game, but once you’ve made that choice, the game’s already decided; the moment you decide you’re done taking risks and accept your demise, the game is over… no matter how many moves are left.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Scroll to Top