Two months ago I got a frantic phone call from my friend, Matt.  “Hey!”, he said,  “Go to this website.  There’s a sign up for an all expenses paid for entrepreneurial workshop.  It’s for veterans and it’s a week long in Columbus.  We are doing this!”  I wasn’t sure about it.  I would have to take vacation days for this and who knows when I’d be starting up my own private practice (an ongoing goal for me).  Who knew if this workshop was for me anyway?  I’m not a business guy.  Anyway, I ended up going and taking the small risk of attending.  Actually, there was no real risk at all and it ended up being the most beneficial week of “work” that I’ve ever participated in.

Coincidentally, I read an article in Psychology Today before I left for the workshop.  It was on the correlation between risk and happiness (“What Happy People Do Differently” August 2013).  Correlation?  Maybe even a causation.  Crazy.  I was never taught this.  The article suggests that people who take more risks in their lives are the happiest.  This didn’t seem like something I am used to seeing.

What if the “key to happiness” really is in taking risk?  The  first day at the workshop the instructor, Fred, told the participants a story of how he invested 1.6 million dollars into a new restaurant that was “too good of an idea to fail”.  It failed.  Fred shared his story to show us that failure is a part of the journey.  We define our reality.  1.6 million lost, Fred?  “It’s just money, honey”, he said.  “Use money as a vehicle, don’t look at is as a means to an end.  Use it to do what you love.”  Where the hell did this guy come from?  I was hooked, though.   This guy lost a fortune and is still sane.  I was intrigued and inspired.

I’ve always figured that stability equaled happiness.  You know, we’re taught to go to school, get a job, make money, save money, retire, and die.  Somewhere in between there we’re encouraged to have a little fun and spend time with family.  Deviate from the norm and you’ll hear it from all angles and different people in your life.  “Don’t do that!  It’s not smart!”.  “Be happy you have a safe and secure job, you’ll need it in today’s economy.”  Then there’s the social security…and I don’t mean the kind that I won’t be able to cash in when I’m ready to “retire”.  No, this is the kind that makes sure we don’t make waves with those that might judge us.  We reserve comments that might help others in fear that they may not like us.  We reserve expressing ourselves simply out of fear that we might make an ass of ourselves.  Most of us don’t dare to be different.  I admire those that do.  These are the people that make a difference in the world and who are truly following their own path.

We know there’s a lot of reward in risk.  However, there’s also a lot of fear and anxiety.  If the idea that the happiest people take the most risks is true, it could be because they are facing fears.  Uncovering fears and exposing them for what they really are?  Simply fears?  The same fears that could possibly be getting in the way of our happiness.  Fortunately, through free will we get to decide what risks to take, or not to take.  We also have the freedom to define what our risks actually mean to us.  In turn, we also have the power to define the outcome.  Everything is relative to our perspective.

Fred went on to tell us that he recovered from his “hiccup” in the restaurant business, learned many lessons, and has since started up several new businesses, including the one he runs now which includes helping veterans become small business owners.  On one of the last days of the workshop we learned that Fred has a new idea.  Making bacon infused bourbon.  Not exactly the safest venture but why not?   While I can’t say that I’ll be the first one in line to buy a bottle of bacon bourbon,  I still got the message…and it summed up the week.  Follow what you are good at, or at least interested in being good at.  Take risks because the payoff just might be happiness instead of the possible “disaster” we fear.  There is no true freedom in playing it safe.