The level to which we should be inviting risk into our lives has been debated for years.  From toddlers to entrepreneurs, a healthy appetite for risk has come to be seen as a key driver of growth and success, with many experts united on its essential role in our lives.  Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg has said that “the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks”, and he’s not alone.  Studies have concluded that being comfortable taking risks, whether it’s in the playground, on the sporting field or in the office, is a quality which enhances all of our lives. 

Here are three times in life in which embracing risk can help us become more courageous,  resilient and high-achieving.

Babies and Toddlers

Risky play is crucial for healthy growth and development in babies and toddlers. Through risky play, children learn about their body and what it can and can’t do; about the world and what is safe and unsafe. It is only with ‘experience’ that we truly understand how to be safe.  Even the World Economic Forum has come out in support of encouraging risky play saying “good for children’s health and development and studies show this benefit outweighs the risk of accidents”.

So, what is risky play?  And, as parents, how do we enable our children to participate in it?

First things first.  Risky play is not hazardous play – no one is suggesting we dial back supervision around hazards like water, heights and fire.  Risky play is play which involves a challenge with some small potential for mild injury (a bump, a grazed knee), but which offers a beneficial experience in return. Developing life skills, learning about their bodies and building strength, dexterity and coordination are all positive outcomes. From learning to ride a bike down a gentle slope to summiting safe, purpose-built climbing equipment, tackling risky play engages their little brains in assessing and solving problems, and helps them overcome fears.

As parents, our job is to look at and assess the risks of any kind of play our child wishes to engage with.  By removing or helping children avoid hazards, and observing without constantly  intervening, we can provide a safe, challenging but predictable environment for risky play to take place.

Starting a New Business

Most people are inherently risk averse, so those who take risks on a regular basis are already ahead of the herd.   Taking calculated risks is especially essential when starting a new business – in fact, some could say the nature of beginning any new enterprise is a risk in itself! 

As an entrepreneur, taking risks can be beneficial in two crucial ways.  Firstly, you’ll face less competition, as the majority of people lack the nerve to do what you’re doing, or do it in the way you are.  Secondly, doing something which represents more of a risk is often a guarantee that your business will stand out from the crowd.  So, how do we embrace risk as entrepreneurs and business owners, without gambling everything?

For starters, if you find you’re naturally risk-averse, begin small.  Take minor risks – choose a more daring design for a digital platform than you might usually, or reach out to a potential collaborator who you don’t know.  Learn from these small risks whether they prove successful or not, and realise that in most cases, the perceived negative outcome is not as bad as anticipated.

When it comes to bigger risks – for e.g. new product development, or hiring staff – doing as much research as possible is key.  Find out everything you can about your market, your competition, your target audience, and anticipated costs and roadblocks.  Only when you’re as informed as you can be, take those calculated risks.  This approach can mean the difference between an educated chance with great odds of success, and throwing good money after bad.

When Taking Up a New Hobby

During the pandemic, people globally took up new hobbies and pursuits in their millions.  Sourdough baking?  Cycling?  Jigsaw Puzzling?  Mixology?  For many of us, activities we could do in the home which helped to break the monotony held the most appeal.  Now, our appetite for more ‘out there’, risky hobbies seems to be returning along with our appetite for putting ourselves ‘out there’ with new people as well!  And, according to mental health experts, this is great news…

Starting a new hobby can feel very risky, even if it’s something gentle like yoga or book club.  This is rooted in the fact that one of our biggest fears as humans is rejection, so putting ourselves into a new group dynamic where we don’t know people or the social ‘rules’ can be frightening.  This is where consciously embracing, rather than avoiding risk comes into play.  

Pushing yourself a little out of your comfort zone and embarking on a hobby you enjoy can improve our mental health and wellbeing. Research shows that people with hobbies suffer less from stress, low mood, and depression – and group activities (like team sports) have the added benefit of improving our interpersonal skills in the real world.

Normal hobbies not risky enough?  Consider activities with more edge such as scuba diving, mountain climbing or skydiving!  These risky hobbies are not for everyone, but for those who LOVE risk and enjoy an adrenaline rush, they can deliver strong connections, a huge sense of achievement and improvements in physical health and fitness too.