This question has haunted me ever since my grad school advisor asked me this when I was contemplating taking an internship in New York City.
My answer at the time: None. I don’t have a capacity for risk.
And I was content not to have one. Or perhaps it wasn’t contentment, it was just the norm. I was used to not being a risk taker.
I moved to Upstate New York by myself to go to graduate school at Syracuse University to get my master’s degree in Arts Journalism one month after I graduated from undergrad. Some people would call that a risk. I’m only realizing that now.
However, that’s a facilitated risk. The academy is always something to fall back on. But what about real risk? The kind that my advisor was asking me about. The kind that involves moving to the Big Apple with only the money in my account, no job, no place to live, no family, no clue about how to “make it” there, and a small group of friends who had made the move for jobs (maybe enough to squeeze out 4 weeks of couch surfing).
I didn’t take the internship. I didn’t take the risk. And I repeated this pattern of behavior, banishing myself to the wishing well. I found myself in this position, on the job hunt for three different jobs in New York City, with major arts organizations. I’d complete the application, go to the interview, and then the second interview, and then…I left myself wishing for the capacity to take a risk.
Now I am in this moment. I watched Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild, be interviewed by Oprah on the OWN network’s Super Soul Sunday program. I haven’t read the book, but I know that in it she talks about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone one summer when she was in her mid-20s. All she had were the items in her backpack and she lived on $20 per week. I thought to myself: “Could I do that? Would I do that?”
My short answer: No.
But hearing her speak of the clarity and lessons she got from taking that risk, re-affirmed for me this feeling that I have got to increase my capacity for risk. I want to be great, and greatness doesn’t come to you. You have to declare it and dare to be it.
I want nothing more than to have that capacity for risk, and to be able to call it faith and not recklessness. I’m working on increasing that capacity each day, and surrounding myself with people who have it.
So I ask you, “What is your capacity for risk?”