Guest Post by Rochelle Royal
William Gurstelle is the Ballistics and Pyrotechnics Editor for Popular Mechanics magazine. Far from risk-averse, it’s his belief through years of research that a person’s inclination to risk-taking has a profound impact on their happiness and life satisfaction, a belief which ties closely with the question of whether you can make your own luck.
Science tells us that lucky people take advantage of chance encounters and opportunities more often than others. In other words, they are more prepared to take risks.
Researchers have even found that it is possible to quantify what kind of risk taker you are, much like an IQ score from 1 to 100. If you were to survey a group large enough you would typically find that most people are neither completely risk averse, (wary of even stepping out their front door) nor are they extreme dare-devils (such as Evel Knievel).
The average person lies right in the middle of these two extremes. Just to the right of this average is what William Gurstelle calls the “Golden Third”. He argues that “people who fall into this Golden Third, who are more willing to take risks and capitalise on opportunities, experience the highest index of life satisfaction and fulfilment”.
Stepping into the Golden Third
There is a fine balance in staying in this golden third once you are in it. Tyler Tervooren, founder of Advanced Riskology, is committed to helping people take smarter risks and live better lives through uncertainty. Tyler has kindly offered some of his time for an interview, sharing his insight and advice, which will hopefully guide you through the process of adding a reasonable amount of risk to your everyday lives.
Tyler argues that “most people take risks because they don’t understand them”.
As with many things in life “we fear that which we don’t understand”. If you take a risk that doesn’t lead to the desired outcome and don’t understand why you didn’t succeed, you may be tempted to stop trying altogether.
“Unless you understand how to take smart risks, this will be most people’s experience with it”. Spend more time researching and understanding what you’re about to get into, and then find a way to “dip your toe in.” Validate your big risk by taking many smaller ones first.
“Smart risk-taking can become a habit, just like anything else can. By repeating the steps necessary to take a smart risk—research, plan, test, evaluate, etc.—you can ingrain that workflow into your habits so that it will always inform the risks you take”.
The fear response to risk will likely endure. Tyler however, states that: “as humans, we will stagnate unless we consciously push ourselves”.
Knowing how to take smart risks and doing so regularly requires continuous discipline. It is a fundamental part of the human experience and the more you do it, the more comfortable it becomes: “Children learn to crawl before they walk. They walk before they run, and they run before they drive cars, fly aeroplanes, so on and so forth. At each step, there’s a fear barrier that has to be overcome”. With the many strings of successes before “you learn something and adjust for the next one which, of course, makes it that much less scary to do”.
Advanced Riskology provides exceptional guidance on how to embrace the unknown while not advocating any action in particular. Tyler recommends that we improve the risks that we are already skilled in and address the ones that we struggle with, which are holding us back from the life that we want.
He highlights that “we tend not to notice that we’re good at something until we see others around us struggling with it.” Even small moves in this area of your life will be uncomfortable, but if anything else Tyler assures that it simply means that “you’re headed in the right direction”.
Remember there is a fine line to living in the “Golden Third” and straying into the reckless nature of many thrill seekers. Janey Downshire of Teenagers Translated is a qualified counsellor, specialising in teenager development and emotional literacy and has the challenge of addressing the high risk taking tendencies of teenagers.
Sharing some advice on how to manage your risk-taking effectively, Janey submits that “people must reflect on their actions and assess the outcomes consciously. Without feedback on your actions you can become narcissistic and uncivilised. When the consequences of your actions bare no meaning to you, you can become destructive to the people around you.”
Furthermore, Lynsey Dixon, Head of Marketing at tombola, speaking on the subject of associated problems with The Golden Third and the ways in which individuals can seek help, said: “In the gaming industry it is important to remember that it is about enjoying the thrill of the game and not about gambling to make money. At tombola, we place huge emphasis on the overall experience. We take our responsibilities seriously and work with a number of organisations to offer support, help and guidance to those who need it and encourage sensible behaviour. It is crucial that individuals stay in control when taking risks, regardless of the situation”.
A crucial part of human development is keeping a conscious awareness of your actions. However, it is also essential to maintain a level of motivation, curiosity and desire to move forward to a better life.
Rochelle Royal has been writing professionally since 2006. She has a passion for writing and has contributed to a number of online publications on a broad range of topics. Her forte is real life, money matters and small business development.
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Living in the Golden Third
Great post Jon. Really got me thinking about where I am now versus my experiences in the past. Have life experiences, age or other nuances changed my openness to adventure or risk? Where do I want to be on this curve? When I have I been happiest? Great thought provoking stuff. Thanks!
Amazing comments from everyone! I must admit I have to be with @rebeccafraserthill:disqus on this one. I never thought of myself as a risk taker and more a ‘plodder on’ meaning I tend to go with the flow. When writing this article I started to think about the thing I had done in life; working in India for a month alone, going to university, moving 100 miles away from my family, starting a career I didn’t even know what it was…most people even consider these options let alone take them. I think that everyone is a ‘risk-taker’ in their own way.
I bet Evel Knievel didnt think what he was doing was crazy stupid and I’m sure others won’t think working in India for a month is extreme but to me it was!
Rochelle, I appreciate your post very much, as well as your comment here. Likewise, I never used to think of myself as a risk-taker, either, mostly from a cultural indoctrination standpoint. Yet, I’ve done pretty “crazy” things in my life, including leaving Macau (then a Portuguese colony before reverting back to China in 1999) at age 16 to be on my own in Hawaii, surviving in a different language, among other things; moving to CA in 2001 from upstate NY without having a job lined up or knowing how things would work out (and have been here ever since), etc.
Through it all, one thing I’ve learned–and fought for many years–is how much of an outlier I seem to be. When something has proven time and again to work for 96% to 97% percent of the population, I find myself again and again, the in the minor 3% to 4%–and struggling with accepting it. Objectively speaking, I’m one of the most buttoned-up business person you’ll meet, and I still live my life within the expectations defined by one standard deviation from the mean, aka the norm. As a leader, I need to stay in that space as well because that’s where most people are. So, it really takes a lot of consciousness to stay true to the gifts I have to make a difference as an outlier and yet translate all that in such a way that serves the norm, if that makes any sense. That seems to be the mission my soul signed up to carry out in this life.
As you can see, your post evoked quite a response within me. It may inspire a blog post of my own about what it means to live and lead as risk-taker! Thank you!
Alice, that is a really good insight about being an outlier but not not being able to use it to your full potential due to it not being considered the ‘norm’ in what you do. I bet a lot of people feel the same way in their careers, especially business people. I believe it is only people in creative arts that get to express their true desires without being considered ‘crazy’.
I would love to work with you on a follow up article to this one if you would consider it?
Absolutely got me thinking about where I fall on the curve. Like Joy, I’m not jumping out of a plane but I am willing to do many other risky things… like move overseas. Interesting to see how our risk taking ties into our life satisfaction.
Yes, it is a balance of taking risks to gain life satisfaction… jumping out of planes wouldn’t bring much satisfaction in my life! It is a solid article to think about risk and life though. Thanks, Alli!
A thought provoking post! I take risks in some things; but, not in others. Unlike a previous commenter, I do love amusement park rides, love speed (as long as I’m driving), love trying new foods; but, I don’t ever see myself willing to jump out of an airplane with a parachute on my back. I’ve never really considered myself a risk taker. But, we all take risks every day. In some things, we no longer even think about those risks (like driving a car on busy highways). In business, big risk takers can succeed wildly or fail spectacularly. Taking smaller risks can be both scary & thrilling…and always a learning experience. Thank you for your post!
Each day, there are risks, whether we realize them or not. It may be in the self-reflection of given moment or day that we realize what we did. Appreciate your additions to the conversation, Joy!
Excellent post! Someone recently characterized me as a “risk taker” and I laughed because I am by no means a “traditional” risk taker – I hate amusement park rides, don’t enjoy speed, and am not even an adventurous eater (pad thai is about my ethnic limit). But as we talked, I came to realize that I DO embrace risks in my life and work, and that I feel stifled and unsatisfied unless I am continually pushing the envelope of what I’m capable of doing, and feeling a bit afraid about the ventures into which I’m pushing myself. Maybe I’m living in that Golden Third. Thank you for giving me this framework to better understand myself and those around me!
Great insights, Rebecca. It is in those moments of reflection that we discover how we are actually approaching life! It is not necessarily in seeking risk but in seeking change and, in this, risks are necessary. Appreciate your added insights to the conversation here. Thanks! Jon