The Fear of Risk-Taking (or, mediocrity is bad?)

 

“The most powerful threat to greatness isn’t evil. It’s mediocrity.”

Mediocre: Of only ordinary or moderate quality; neither good nor bad; barely adequate (dictionary.com).

There seems to be a trend towards mediocrity these days. We see it in education, sports, business, and politics. We even succumb to the status quo in our personal lives. For example:

  • In our classrooms, homogeneous grouping (remember the red birds and blue birds?) is no longer PC. Instead, we teach to the middle – we utilize our gifted students as peer tutors, lest they act up out of boredom, while slower learners fall through the cracks.
  • On the ball field, all participants receive the same trophy, leaving our talented players wondering why they should try so hard.
  • In the voting booth, we are sadly relegated to selecting the political candidate with the fewest skeletons in the closet, rather than the best leader.
  • We stay in unfulfilling relationships and jobs, because it’s safer than striving for the partner or job of our dreams.
  • Businesses stifle innovation, because “mistakes” might upset their profit margin.

 

But, why are we ok with being barely adequate?

In a word… FEAR! Human beings are, all too often, fear-based decision makers. I’ve written a lot about fear, since conquering it happens to be the theme of my blog. In one of my very first posts, I wrote specifically about my own fear of risk-taking, which stemmed from the fear of being judged. Since then, I’ve come to realize that risk aversion – stepping out of our comfort zone – is actually quite common.

Elon Musk, in an article for Inc. magazine, beautifully articulated why most people are afraid to take risks: “There’s a tremendous bias against taking risks. Everyone is trying to optimize their ass-covering.”

I LOVE this quote! Human beings are a bunch of ass-coverers! (hey, I didn’t say that, Elon did).

So, how can we minimize the ass-covering? Perhaps as NIKE suggests, JUST DO IT!

Go out on that limb…step out of your box…take a chance. Mistakes (if there is such a thing) are a form of growth! We’ve all heard those quotes – you know, the ones where the famous innovators, explorers, inventors, and other gifted folks extoll the benefits of failure and how it led them to some of their greatest successes. Well…it’s true! The thing is, it takes courage.

In closing, I’ll leave you with this perfect quote:

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage — Maya Angelou

This week, go forth and minimize your ass-covering. When you do, you will find that you optimize your opportunities!