What's the Biggest Risk You've Ever Taken?

Near the end of the movie version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice where Keira Knightley plays the compelling Elizabeth Bennett, the stoic Mr. Darcy character says, “You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love … love you.”

If one has no prior knowledge of the story, this sounds anywhere from romantic to hokey. But add in some context, like the fact that Elizabeth turned down his marriage proposal once before or that she was atypical for her time in that she was far more interested in intellectual pursuits than “capturing” a man, and Mr. Darcy’s words begin to have more impact.

He took a major risk of heart. Declaring his feelings knowing full well a stinging rejection could be the reaction … well, I get a lump in my throat just thinking about it. And it’s fiction, for goodness sake.

These kinds of things invariably get me focused on the idea of risk. What is the biggest risk I’ve taken? That my clients have taken? Are we all risk takers in one area or another? Certainly we’re better at it in some aspects of our lives than others, but maybe there’s a way to transfer that ability from professional to creative to emotional when different phases of our lives call for that.

Watching The Social Network recently – yes, I just got around to it – I was transfixed in a way that surprised me. Seeing Mark Zuckerberg as Harvard student run with an idea and display such unwavering confidence that pretty quickly crossed over into arrogance was stunning. And while even its writer, Aaron Sorkin, admitted the portrayal of Zuckerberg was a bit harsh, it showed his sustained vision to the point of obsession in a way I found admirable in its risk-taking.

Easy for me to say in hindsight, I know, given the global force that is Facebook, but sure-footedness in the extreme and what brings it about fascinates me.

And then there’s the life or death kind of risk.

Lately I’ve become almost morbidly focused on what went into the killing of Osama bin Laden, probably because we just passed the one-year mark of his death. This week I actually tore myself away from Peter Bergen’s book Man Hunt (subtitled “The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abottabad”) to watch a show on the Military Channel called Killing Bin Laden that explained how our military prepared for and then executed the plan to kill him.

This, of course, is the kind of risk the majority of us will never face, but one that reminds us about the human capacity for rising to challenge almost beyond comprehension. The kind that allows me to sit here at my desk and ponder how me and my clients could take more risks because a bunch of others answered our nation’s call to serve.

Risk barely covers what they do. It requires a whole different word. From the intelligence gathering prior to the mission to the months of training in the darkness to the seamless shift into Plan B when one stealth helicopter landing went wrong that May 2011 night, it is breathtaking to imagine what is going on elsewhere as we live our “normal” lives and contemplate risks like whether to send our manuscript to an agent or tell someone we love him.

I don’t want to minimize these very real risks at all. Maybe this is partly an expression of gratitude to the men and women who make our day-to-day risk-taking possible. But it gets me thinking about precedent and carry-over in our own lives. Might the highly trained operative find it easier to risk his life for country than to tell a woman he loves her? If so, can we, you and me, take something away from that?

I see people who find matters of the heart much easier to navigate than their career steps. And, of course, it goes the other way around for some. There are also those who live cautiously across the board. Then maybe one day someone encourages them and they audition for America’s Got Talent or ask a local café to display their photographs and they realize their entire lives don’t hinge on the potential rejection. It goes their way or it doesn’t and they try again.

Those much more rare risks that result in staying alive or dying could make the others a breeze if we choose to look at them from that perspective. But what about the ones that will make us look like either a genius or a fool? Everyone in that situation room in the White House last May – from President Obama on down -- watching the Navy SEALs’ mission in Pakistan unfold in real time risked looking incompetent or worse had that historical invasion been unsuccessful. It would have been seen as failure with a capital ‘F.’

“In the event of a ground attack on the Abbottabad compound, [Defense Secretary Robert Gates] was … concerned about the level of risk for U.S. forces and for the American relationship with Pakistan,” Bergen writes in Man Hunt, calling Gates one of the most consistently skeptical of the president’s advisors on this. “Above all, Gates was concerned about a replay of Operation Eagle Claw, the botched effort in 1979 to release the fifty-two American hostages held in the U.S. embassy in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution.”

Gates’ healthy skepticism, coming from an informed and seasoned place, contributed to a more rigorous plan. So much on the line, and while not everyone agreed, the President decided it was go time.

Risk, risk.

Pulling the trigger on a terrorist, sending in the audition tape for the new television show, taking a chance that our love is unrequited

Sometimes we just have to hold our breath and plunge in.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.