My wife and I watched an episode of Ugly Betty last night that reminded me of my high school sailing coach's mantra. Betty learned that to go somewhere, she needed to take risks - stop playing it safe. I couldn’t help but think of what my high school coach repeated every single day. My coach said it was our mantra, a series of questions we should be asking on a reoccurring basis: “Am I doing the right thing right now? Am I taking any unnecessary risks? What’s next?”
Am I doing the right thing right now?
This is a question of intentionality. A question meant to engage you in your life and what you’re currently doing. When I first started asking this question the answer was usually “I’m not sure”, which is the wrong answer.
When racing dinky sailboats, we used this to stay focused and at the moment. We needed to get warmed up and develop our rhythm at the start of a race - the right thing. The people who did just ok in the race were those who were sitting at the starting line waiting for the race to begin. The people who excelled and did very well were the ones who were engaged and preparing for the race ahead of time. Am I doing the right thing right now?
The same applies to life. An intentional life is someone asking themselves this question constantly. When your hitting snooze for the fourteenth time, right thing right now? When you’re watching tv show after tv show at night, right thing right now? It’s the difference between someone engaged and excelled and someone who waits for life to happen to them.
Am I taking any unnecessary risks?
This question has confused me up for years. That’s because only in the last year did I really understand what it meant. The question here suggests that I should never take risks, or always? Is there discernment in risk there? What about a safety net? What does it all mean?
In my tiny little sailboat, you were either trying to protect your lead or makeup ground. If you were in first, you wanted guarantees - no guesses. If you were in last then you were in the land of opportunity, nowhere to go but up - risks were no problem (here comes intentionality again). To protect your lead, you calculate the risk of loss before taking one. However, not taking a risk is risky. When you are in the land of opportunity, you take risks to gain. If there’s nowhere to go but up, who’s to say breaking away from the pack won’t pay off? The key here is unnecessary. If I take this risk of chasing a puff of wind off to the left, will I gain anything or be hurt? Risks are a required part of a life lived on purpose - the question is about discerning which risks are worth it.
Playing it safe doesn't work because the safe center does not exist. Living life without taking risks is like watching others sail past you as you safely slide into the last place. If you keep your money safe in a savings account, inflation will destroy it. If you keep your conversations with family, friends, and co-workers/employers safe, there will be no depth and growth. Risks are everywhere in life, our job is to discern whether they are a necessary risk that propels us in a direction we want to go.
The "what's next" question was my least favorite because I tend to be more impulsive and reactive. The "what's next" question forces me to think more about where I am going. This question helps remove emotion from decisions that are following.
After determining you're not taking an unnecessary risk, the focus is on where to place your boat next. Where do you want or need to position your boat next? Where or what is the next step in the race?
Life looks a lot like this. "We just rented an apartment, what's next? A home purchase or do we want to rent for our lives? Where are we headed?" What's next is a question of making your next step intentionally. It's not to be mistaken for planning out your next 30 years. It's the idea that you'll make the next step intentionally without taking an unnecessary risk.