Come Take a Risk with Me

I've never considered myself a risk taker. When I was little, I grew up in a twice-divorced family and the ground underneath my feet never seemed solid. In elementary school, I went to four different schools and had to learn how to make friends over and over again. I think that's why I loved reading--I could get lost in books and could re-read them whenever I wanted. As I got older, I decided to take control of my creativity and started to write. Once I started writing, I realized that I could imagine worlds that others would read. Even today, I still think that the relationship between an author and a reader is one of the most intimate.

In my books, there are moments of crisis or difficulty and that intimacy that is formed between an author or a reader is precious. I take that responsibility seriously and see it as something sacred. Why?

Because I grew up looking for heroes in the books around me and for a place that I could find security and a calm from the storm of my family life. It was comforting for me to read about Frodo and Sam taking the ring to Mount Doom in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. After I finished the series, I've since read those books 9 times. I would start reading The Fellowship of the Ring in the fall and then end up finishing book 3 in late winter or early spring.

Once I got a bit older, I started branching out and read other authors and genres, taking a risk until I started breaking out of my shell and connected more with actual people. I love books, and I expect I always will, but now I've learned that there are times when I need to take a risk in life.

I went from being risk adverse to taking more chances as I became more self-confident in myself. I realized in my 20s that either I could take a risk, and fail, or miss out.

One of the first big risks that I remember taking was back in high school. I was 16 years old and had an opportunity to take college classes in my Senior year. I was interviewed by a committee of teachers and they asked me this question: "Why should we accept you in this program? We see that you don't have much extracurricular activities like baseball--why do you want to take college classes?"

I had a moment of clarity. I realized that I had to use every word I could to convince them that I should be in the academic program or I would miss out on an amazing opportunity.

I thought quickly on my feet and told them that I knew I wasn't going to look back and regret not playing sports because that's not what I liked. But I would regret not taking part in furthering my education. Education has been critical to who I am today. Back then I wanted the freedom to go beyond what my small Catholic high school could offer and start taking college classes.

I took a risk.

The committee of teachers accepted me in the program and I graduated from high school with 12 college credits. I was able to apply those credits to my college workload and that allowed me to be a double major while still graduating in four years. Risk taken and lots gained.

But the biggest risk I've taken is a story that is almost 23 years old now. If I didn't take the risk, then my life would be entirely different.

Back in 1995 when I was in graduate school, I signed up to read my poetry at a bookstore near my university. I had read at the bookstore's poetry reading several times before. Normally, 40-50 people came out the reading. To help get some support, I invited all my friends--and none of them could make it. Either they were busy or didn't care for poetry. So I had a choice to make: Either cancel and not go or take a risk.

I decided to go on my own, read my poetry out to the group and that's the night that I met my wife. After the reading, I helped a friend put the folding chairs away and a young woman came up to talk to us. By pure chance, I happened to be in the right place at the right time. God willing, we'll be together 23 years in a few days.

I got lucky. But the universe had offered me an opportunity and I accepted it. I like telling this story because the truth is that my wife was downstairs looking at magazines and she didn't hear any of the poetry reading (who knows, maybe she would have heard me and left!). I chose to go because it was something that I wanted to do for me. I didn't go to meet my future wife. I went to the bookstore to pursue my dream of being an author.

Twenty-three years later, a lot has changed, but still there are times when a clear opportunity presents itself to me and I need to decide if I should try it or not. I don't take up all risks, but I've accepted public speaking gigs, new jobs and volunteer opportunities all by seeing an opportunity pop up in front of me.

Why do I share this with you?

I'm curious what risks you've taken. What's the biggest risk that you've taken recently and why did you do it?