Why do I take fewer risks as I grow older?
As a kid, I took lots of risks. In school and college, I took lots of risks. Having finished my University in Texas, I returned to my country with extreme motivation to nurture my creativity (in 1985). I joined the corporate world… My first job was with British American Tobacco (a large conglomerate). Three months into my job I approached my boss, “Boss, I have a new idea to do this differently and more effectively”. He replied immediately, “Haseeb, you are not paid to think, just follow this line”. Possessing a childlike excitement, that I have, I kept going back and every time I got a similar response. I was being “conditioned” to the corporate world to take orders. Creativity was required but not at that level of the organization and certainly not at a remotely located manufacturing plant in their finance department.
Around the same time, I got married… Now this was a different life altogether. From a risk taker, I became a safe player like everybody around me…. and the years passed by….and the frustrations grew of adjusting to a life lower than my original plan or vision. I changed a few jobs in the ten years of my working in the corporate world. My original vision was to work for a couple of years and then do my own business.
But those couple of years turned into ten years. Although I made good progress, in comparison to the people around me, as I was still taking more risks than others, yet the frustration and helplessness started showing on my body. I became overweight and looked older than my age, not to mention the nightmare that I became in my domestic life. Imagine a 36-year-old finance (accountant) geek, cynical, Mr. Know it all, low self-esteem, aggressive, insecure individual who wants to prove he hasn’t lost it.
Why? perhaps because I compromised in the name of ‘calculated risks’. Although I was sitting on top of the ‘corporate pyramid’ yet in the ‘pyramid of life’ I ranked quite low. I realized that the power and image in the corporate structure is quite superficial and will last only as long as I can “secure” myself at a certain position – It was not permanent. But the stakes were higher than ever – extremely difficult to “Let Go”. It seemed pain and frustration and misery were a dominant aspect of life. I wanted a change but didn’t know how.
Then something happened….
How I re-gained my Risk Taking Ability (RTA)
Zaufyshan (my wife) and I, along with our three lovely children, Hamza, Amal and Miryll decided to take a vacation in 1995 to Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. On August 8th, last day of our vacation we decided to rent a Jeep and drive around Phuket (Island in Thailand). We visited several places and among them was a “Bungy Jumping” facility over a lake. We saw a crane pulling a cabin over water and stopped at 50 meters (150 feet). Then we witnessed a man jumping in the air over the lake and his legs were tied up to an elastic rope. He bounced up down a few times and finally the cabin came down. Some helpers pulled him on shore. Another person went up and jumped. The third person went up but didn’t have courage to jump. He quickly disappeared as soon as the cabin came down, as he was embarrassed to face anybody.
I approached the Australian Franchise owner and asked him, “Has anybody ever died on this?”, he replied, “No not on this one”. I finally gathered all my courage and paid for my jump. They made me sign a “no responsibility” paper in case something went wrong. Very methodically, they took my weight and tied my legs together to the elastic rope. Before I knew I was sitting in the cabin and the cabin is moving up with the engine humming sound. Hmmmm….Half way up, the Thai person asked me, “Have you ever jumped before?”
I replied, “No I have never jumped before”
He said, “When the cabin comes to a stop, hop on to this open area and hold on to the bars but don’t look down”, “When I count 4, 3, 2, 1 Bungee, just jump, don’t look down”
When the engines humming finally stopped at the top I could hear my heartbeat ….Dhuk Dhuk.
I hopped onto the open area, held on to the bars and looked straight. I knew something was deep down 150 feet but I didn’t look down. (I could still hear my heartbeat)…. Yes, I was scared. My palms became moist with tension holding the bars very tightly. I can still feel that moment of agony eleven years later as I am narrating this story to you.
Then he said he is going to count and I heard, “4,3,2,1 Bungee” and…..
Instead of jumping, I looked down “Wow this is really high. There is no way I can jump this distance”
I could see my wife holding a video camera beyond the big lake, along with my 3 small children (my youngest daughter Miryll had just barely learnt how to walk).
Noticing my reluctance, the Thai helper spoke in his Thai accent, “No Jump, no refund”!
I replied, “I don’t give a damn about the refund. Get me out of here I’ll pay you extra”.
He chuckled and said, “Make up your mind”
Closing my eyes I replied, “Give me a minute” and took a deep breath.
Allow me to share two major thoughts that crossed my mind in those moments of indecisiveness, pain and helplessness…
1) I always thought that I had it in me (call it my ego or whatever). The “corporate rut” had somehow replaced my self-confidence with low self-esteem over the ‘conditioning’ (adjustment) years. Now this was a moment of test to prove to myself that I still had it in me. For I had pushed myself at this brink of a life-threatening extreme sport. Whatever the background and baggage, I was now faced with a “Choice”. If I turn back I would never be able to face myself in the mirror. It would only add to my frustration and low self-esteem. So no matter what the consequences I had to take the ‘plunge’. Even at the expense of losing my life. This was indeed a ‘point of no return’. If I really was serious about my dreams then I had to take this risky step. Somehow the link became very clear to me, but the actual courage to “Let Go” was still not strong enough.
2) My wife and children are down there waiting for me to jump and prove that I have courage to take risky steps in my life. I must admit that the male ego to prove to my wife, Zaufyshan, that ‘I’m the Man’ and leading by example to my children were very strong convincing points during this crucial contemplative debate in my mind.
But still no jump….It was not easy to ‘Let Go’… I opened my eyes and looked down… yes it was far.
Then I heard encouraging words from Zaufyshan who shouted from amongst a hundred spectators below , “Come on Haseeb, you can do it”!!! These encouraging words from my life partner was the trigger I needed…
and I ‘Let Go’…. three seconds later I touched the water and was pulled back up like a puppet on a string…. came up and down a few times until the cabin came on shore and helpers untied my legs.
They gave me a certificate of courage which i proudly took to my family….I met the franchise owner on the way, who remarked, “Look at you, you are a different person now”…. Indeed it was the beginning of a new life for me from then onwards.
Three main lessons I learnt from this exercise:
1) Instead of hanging on to past baggage, develop the ability to ‘Let go’… Indecision is more painful than the actual decision. Letting go of any previous baggage of insecurities, habits, thoughts, beliefs, assumptions… having faith in the unknown is important to make progress in life.
2) Being close to people who encourage you to take bold steps in your life is very important. (I am fortunate to have a wife who has encouraged me in all major steps), specially in leaving my well paying job 18 years ago and starting Intek with no certainty of the future.
3) ‘Dealing with uncertainty’ is an important skills that must be developed specially for people who have a structured routine life. Leaving the comfort zone requires “faith” in the unknown. The belief, “whatever is going to happen is going to happen for the best” is essential for risk takers to take any plunge.
Many people consider my act of bungee jumping a foolish one as it jeopardizes one’s life….But now when I look back at the past eighteen years I stopped being afraid of difficult people, bills, difficult situations, challenges etc… If I hadn’t jumped, I probably would be stuck in my ‘ignorant shell’ trying to secure myself always with my choices /decisions and would indeed have missed so many joys of life that I have so far experienced by freeing myself.
Please comment if you enjoyed this personal story…