Taking Risks Pays Off

Starting small may get you there, but don’t forget to take risks.

            My planner this year says “Dream big, Start small” across the front. It’s sound advice. Seeing it every day is a good reminder to do the little things I need to accomplish to move towards my goals – start my reading, finish a paper, work on an application, send the emails I need to send. But it can hold you back. There’s a certain kind of thinking amongst my generation that’s pervasive, a kind of thinking that stems from listening to our parents tell us we could achieve anything is we just worked hard enough. It’s easy to get stuck in the bog of daily small steps and to forget to take risks.

            For the first time in a while, I took risks this summer. Big, potentially disastrous risks. I flew to New Zealand with just enough information about an internship to call it a little more than a whim. I went BASE jumping while I was there. I reached out to a professor at a graduate school to ask if I could sit in on a class. I drug my dad to D.C. to tour graduate schools with about two days’ notice. I took the GRE last minute on what was actually a whim.         

            And you know what? Every single one of those risks paid off. I skipped past the small steps that I’ve always been told I’m “supposed” to do. Yes, I sent emails and filled out applications and did what I needed to in order to take these risks. But what I didn’t do was wait. I’m no longer constantly waiting on the payout from starting small after taking these risks. They propelled me out of a comfort zone I had spent too long in and forced me to go after what I want with a vengeance. I’m still taking small steps, now. But I’m running full tilt what I want, risks be damned. Sure, I scraped my knees. I under-packed for New Zealand’s mild winter because I didn’t check the weather. I didn’t do quite as well on the math section of the GRE as I wanted (but I knocked the verbal section out of the park). I had a moment of “I’m literally about to die” while base jumping, and you can see it on my face in the video right before the adrenaline hits and I start grinning.

            I would never have done any of this is I hadn’t shifted away from my thinking that encouraged me to start small and wait patiently for my hard work to pay off. This shift in my thinking came at a perfect time, too; I’m graduating next year. And I could apply to jobs and graduate schools that are solidly within my reach. Or I could take a risk and go after my dream job, my dream school. I feel better about applying for jobs abroad now. I feel like more of my future is in my own hands, and I feel that it’s my actions that mold the shape of my future rather than anyone else. If I don’t like an offer and it’s the only one I’ve gotten so far, I can say no. I can say yes to the one I want even if it’s not perfect. I have the confidence to take risks with my future and have faith that, at the end of the day, I will still end up just fine. So dream big, start small, and take risks.


Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash