If you don’t take risks, you’re not living life fully. As John Paul Jones once said, “It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who cannot risk will not win.” Maybe that’s what Nik Wallenda repeats to himself as he’s performing death-defying stunts, such as tightrope walking across the Little Colorado River Gorge near the Grand Canyon — a feat he completed successfully June 23.
The Wallendas are no strangers to such acts, however. The family patriarch, Karl Wallenda, was born in Germany in 1905 to a household already engrossed in the circus life. Karl practiced high-risk acts throughout his life — including crossing the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia in 1970 — until the day he died, during a tightrope walk in Puerto Rico in 1970. Karl passed on his traits and talents to his family of circus performers, including great-grandson Nik.
Besides his recent walk on a 2-inch-thick steel cable 1,500 feet in the air, the younger Wallenda has also broken the record for highest and longest bike ride on a high wire and, last year, he became the first person to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s currently planning a high wire walk between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building in Manhattan. Nik — and the entire Wallenda dynasty of circus performers — have made a living by taking risks, by doing things no one else would even consider.
Now this may not be the ideal business philosophy for most companies out there, but the fact is — and something undergraduate finance majors learn immediately — if there’s no risk, there’s no reward. The insurance industry may want to take note. The graying of the industry as a whole signals a need for young, fresh entrants, who are more inclined to think outside of the box and take risks. And with that comes new, modern ideas that could help a segment of the economy searching for ways to attract new business. Though it seems insurance companies may be the last type of business to take a risk in search for a positive outcome, it may be the one sector that needs it most.
But taking risks isn’t just about putting your life on the line or jeopardizing a company’s future in hopes of high returns. Even something such as changing jobs or careers requires courage and the willingness to step out of your comfort zone. The magazine I hail from, Risk Management, often wrote about the benefits of taking risks, both professionally and personally, about how refusing to enter into the unknown will ultimately hinder growth. How the word “risk” should not be taken as solely negative. There is good risk. And living by the mantra, “That’s just the way we’ve always done things” is not acceptable. Taking on challenges, whether they pan out or not, will always be a learning experience, and learning will always be a good thing.
And though leaving a great job at a company I respected with coworkers I call friends was difficult, it was also necessary. Sure, it’s no Nik Wallenda feat, but it’s still scary, it’s still a risk. But in no way should people — or companies for that matter — base their decisions on trepidation of the unexpected.