The Naked Hero
This post originally appeared at www.thenakedhero.com June 24th 2012
I recently attended my college reunion. It was one of those really fun events where we weren’t talking about our individual accomplishments, but were far more interested in revisiting a meaningful period in all our lives that’s shaped us as adults.
One of my former classmates, however, now produces documentaries and he took the opportunity to speak to us on regret, interviewing many of us as to any we might have experienced over the years.
He shared a deeply personal regret of his own:
It started us all thinking and talking.
I can’t think of any regrets I have regarding the truly important decisions in my life. While I regret not running as much as I used to, I’m happily married and have great children who’ve turned out well. I can’t regret anything there. I regretted letting my sister talk me into jumping from a second storey window when I was seven, but my adult teeth eventually replaced the ones I lost so it all worked out.
But beyond that one incident (which I knew was stupid even at the time) by no stretch of the imagination can I be called a risk taker. Even my wardrobe is a mix of dark colors, because I can’t bring myself to stray from what’s safe and feels comfortable.
And I do regret that, because it could have led to a deeper and far more meaningful one.
When I first started writing, it was because I wasn’t cut out to be a stay-at-home mom. I love my kids and made the choice to be home with them because it was the right thing to do for my family, but I needed something more, and that challenged me personally. I spent years learning to write, taking university courses that interested me, and doing odd bits of volunteer work. All of that eventually led me to the security of a decent day job once my children didn’t need me as much.
I loved that day job. A lot. The paycheque was something I’d earned all on my own. Praise from my bosses gave me that added personal sense of achievement I never knew I lacked.
Then my writing partner and I sold our first series. Suddenly I was working two jobs, and still taking college courses because I love them. (If I could be a professional student, I would so be all over that.)
Soon after that first sale, I switched to a new job at work. I begged my boss for the opportunity. It looked like a good challenge. I didn’t think of it as a potential risk.
Maybe I should have, because I hated the new job. For the first time in my life I found I was stuck in a situation that was difficult to get out of, and beyond my control. The company I worked for wasn’t the problem. It was the particular job I hated. I wasn’t moving forward and there was no going back, either. I could have asked for another transfer, but that felt like taking advantage of their generosity when I’d already asked them for an opportunity that turned out to be so not for me. But leaving the company would mean giving up a guaranteed paycheque, and for me, that was a scary risk.
For my husband, not so much.
He is much less risk averse than I am. He’s been self-employed his whole working life. For me, money’s a reward. For him money’s a necessity, but it isn’t everything. He thought I should take the risk and write full time. If it didn’t work out, I could find a new job. (How’s that for faith in me considering the economy?)
He asked me about the potential payoffs for writing, what timeframe I wanted to give myself for making a profit, and what I planned to do if it didn’t work out. In short, he suggested I put together a mini business plan. He also asked me if I really believed I could do this, because if I didn’t believe in myself, it might not be the right change for me.
To my surprise, the answer was yes. I might be afraid of risk, but never hard work.
Still, for someone who’s averse to risk, writing full time is a scary prospect. There’s no guaranteed paycheque no matter how hard you work, you live contract to contract, and a few years ago, I would never have considered it. Now, however, I have a writing partner, an agent, two different publishers under two different names, and business skills I never had before. I can’t control certain aspects of publishing, but I can treat my writing as a day job and each manuscript as a project. That gives me the measure of control I seem to need.
More than anything else, though, I’ve discovered that I don’t want to look back on my life and wish I’d tried something I love to do but didn’t, simply because it contained a higher element of risk than I found comfortable. I won’t regret failing, but I’ll regret never having tried my best.
So far, I have no reason to regret the decision.
What regrets do you have? Are you a risk taker, or do you believe in taking things safe?