As a retiree, looking back on the twists and turns of my life, I’m tending toward a conclusion. It’s that some of my very best decisions were based on my willingness to take a risk. Not a foolish risk like signing up for a sub-prime mortgage. Rather a more calculated risk—a risk based more on my own ability. I’ll explain with a few examples…
In the summer of 1980, I launched my business consulting practice. Larry, our first-born son, was eight months old and my wife had recently resigned from teaching to become a full-time mom. We lived in a small condominium were the smaller of our two bedrooms served as Larry’s nursery; the larger bedroom was our combination master bedroom/consultant’s office. A file cabinet and a waste paper basket separated my desk from our queen-sized bed. My gross revenue those first few years was pretty darn low and I remained nervous for quite some time. But it all worked out fine.
Eventually, we moved into a much larger house where I made use of a good-sized bedroom as my home office. Working from my home office for 25 years, I played an active role in the lives of my sons as they grew up. And I wouldn’t trade my role as an active dad for anything in the world!
In 2005, my wife, Wendy, and I decided it was time to retire. She closed her law practice, I closed my consulting practice, and we applied to join the Peace Corps. Kind of an “outside the box” decision for senior citizens, I suppose. But because of my high blood pressure, the Peace Corps’ medial department rejected my application.
Undeterred, Wendy and I decided, “If the Peace Corps won’t have us, we’ll find out own volunteer opportunity.” So we sold our home, put everything we owned in storage and moved to the Peruvian Andes. There we found our own volunteer opportunities. Our decision to “go it alone” turned out great. We learned so very much about Peruvian culture and formed wonderful friendships with a number of Peruvian families. They refer to us as their American family and we refer to them as our Peruvian family. Since returning to the United States, we’ve gone back to Peru to visit. With our Peruvian families, we’ve celebrated high school graduations and a wedding. Indeed our decision to move to Peru added a wonderful, new dimension to our lives.
When we returned to the United States in 2008, Wendy and I, again, made a somewhat risky decision. Both of us having grown up in cities and suburbs, we decided we’d move to a small community in a state where neither of us had ever before lived. We purchased a home some eight miles outside of Sisters, Oregon, a town of some 2,000 people. Upon arrival, we knew not a single person in Sisters. That too turned out to be an excellent decision. We’ve formed some wonderful friendships and are very happy “here in the country,” at the foot of the Cascade Mountains.
But don’t think that all of my decisions were good ones. Not by a long shot! I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes. Like that time back in 1965 when I had the opportunity to purchase a brand new, fourplex apartment house in Anaheim, California for just $42,500. The property was less than six miles from where I worked and I had the $2,500 down payment in my bank account. My friend Dorian had it all figured out. He said, “Buy it Bill. You can live in one of the apartments and rent out the other three. It will be a great investment.”
Did I buy the fourplex? Heck no! Do I regret not having done so? Heck yes!
So it seems to me that, so very often, our better decisions are based on our acceptance of risk. Conversely, some of our worst decisions stem from our refusal to take a risk.