Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Comfort in Theory/The Power of Risk

In my MBA program, the last thing we do before earning our degree is known as a master project. I attend an application-based school and the master project is a culmination of everything we've learned throughout the year- in an applied manner. In class we discuss theories, of course, but we also challenge them, put them into practice, test them out, and decide where they might fit in within our own worlds. Much like my fellow scientists here at Tumbleweed, I live and breathe this kind of work. It's what I look forward to each  day and what has possessed me to continue along in higher education. There is a certain comfort in theory that can be so delicious to partake in, but applying those theories takes bravery. As adults, we often need a push to put theory into action. Sure, we can talk all day long about our dreams and desires, but we rarely act on them and even more rarely do so with the tenacity and passion that children do. Children are brave. They are, by far, the bravest people I know. Is it that they fear failure less? Do they not know what the possible bad outcomes are? Do they simply believe in themselves more than adults do?

As we watch children take risk after risk and observe them putting themselves out there and trying their hardest, it's easy to reflect only on how brave they are. If you watch closely, though, you will see the intrinsic worry and fear that children often have alongside their bravery. Often they tremble and they may even shirk away from a risk that seems not so risky to us as adults. They, too, find comfort in theory. It's fun to talk about this or that, but taking it on? That's a very different thing. After all, bravery is not bravery if there is no fear to begin with.

So how do we engage their sense of adventure? How do we encourage their inner predisposition to bravery? How do we cultivate their awareness of risk without diminishing the value of taking on that very same risk? Many of the answers to these questions will seem simple.

We talk about what's happened, what might happen, and what is happening. Often having a conversation around possible outcomes or taking time to process an event as a group is all children, or anyone for that matter, need to feel ownership and control over a situation. Talking goes a long way in encouraging informed risk-taking. Often after something goes awry or goes especially awesome we debrief about it at circle time. We talk about what worked and what didn't work. The children reflect on how the experience felt to them and what they might have done differently or what they feel especially proud of having done. These builds connections between the past, the present, and the future in a real and monumental way. It helps to create an understanding of causation and the ability to imagine what ifs. 

We build environments that allow for exploration and adventure but are also physically safe. The environment goes a long way in helping children feel safe to explore and take risks. When you work somewhere that you feel trusted and competent in what you do each day, you are more likely to take on risks or try something new. The same is true for children. When their needs for consistency, safety, and basic necessities are met they are able to feel confident in taking calculated risks.

We allow space for children to take risks and be an active participant in their lives. Recently I was spending time with a family member of mine. I watched as she fretted over every decision she made- right down to deciding which drink to get at the store. I had flashbacks to my own days of being too afraid to make the simplest of decisions. When we feel powerless and only passively receive the outcomes of our lives, we are less likely to take risks. Picking out our own drink at a store may seem like an everyday task for most of us, but for a child this is the beginning of self advocacy, the birth of risk, and the essence of understanding the outcomes that come from even the smallest decisions we make. By giving children space to make their own decisions- small and large- and engage actively in their own lives we are encouraging them to be brave, to take risks, and to find out what happens next.


We simply listen and reflect as children express how they feel. Emotions are a huge, huge burden at times. Whether we feel excited, happy, sad, or frantic- it's a big feeling. Being extraordinarily happy is often just as scary as being exceptionally sad. The moment this clicked for me was an eye opener in how I approached people. Often when someone is sad I want to comfort. When someone is happy I want to join in and celebrate. While both of these are wonderful reactions, the most important thing to do first is to listen, to hear, to be present, and to reflect. Giving the other person time to honor their own emotions before you join in can go a long way in building trust as well as encouraging bravery and risk. Risk is much easier to take on when we feel cemented in the relationships that exist in our lives.

Of course, there are many other ways to encourage risk and build awareness around calculated risk, but I wanted to share these four with you for now. What about in your own households? In you personal lives? Throughout your work day? What enables you to feel confident in taking on risk?

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