Take a risk: it may be your best friend

Every great scientist, pioneer, explorer, engineer and businessman in every era was willing to face danger, difficulties and fear to break new ground and explore new worlds. They faced their fears and took risks. Doing somethings that you fear gets your adrenalin going. It fuels your success.

You have to take risks. Try something new that has never been tried before. It does not matter if you fail, just move forward.  If you make mistakes learn from them and then try again until you succeed.

I don’t believe in taking stupid chances. I don’t buy lottery tickets. However, it is obvious that nothing can be achieved without tasking chances.

“Whilst one person hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes amd becoming superior”. Henry C. Link

Many people think of speaking in front of audiences is terrifying. It is one of the most common and biggest fear of people.

I used to be one of these people. I hated speaking in front of a crowd. I spent most of my life at school, college and university avoiding speaking in front of a group. If I had to give a talk I would simply freeze and make all kind of excuses.

How I overcome this fear of public speaking?

When I got my first job at General Electric Company, my research partner, Douglas Meakin, was invited to present our paper at an International Conference on Crystal Growth because the paper we had submitted as a poster was very interesting. I said to Douglas “That’s great, I’ll prepare some  slides for you so that you can give the talk.” He responded, “Not me, you are giving the talk  and I will support you.” I responded in despair, “I can’t do that, I’ve never given a talk in my life”.  Douglas casually stated, “Its about time you gave one then.” He walked away and began doing his experiments without a thought of what I was going through. I felt my world had fallen apart. I was certain that I would die on stage at the conference.

The turning point for came a few days later. I decided that I will give the talk even if I die on stage. Once the decision was made a huge weight was lifted. I set about preparing. I prepared my transparencies and rehearsed for months. Like a maniac, every night I would practice. I must have practiced it dozens of times.

When the day came, I prayed and asking God to help me to do a brilliant talk. No doubt I was ready. When my name was announced I was trembling with fear. I walked on stage and don’t remember a thing. At the end of the talk the chair kindly thanked me. “Thank you for a very interesting and clear presentations”. He turned to the audience, “Any questions please?” I felt myself and I was breathing and still alive. A new confidence surged through my body. I answered every question easily and confidently.

My belief system went overnight from, “If I talk in front of a group I will die” to “if I am prepared then I can give a great talk”. Then I realised you don’t always have 3 months to prepare for a 15 minutes talk.

“It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation”–Wayne Burgraff 

How can I get better at public speaking? I decided to repeat this experience again and again. I read books and accepted invitations to speak at collaborating universities. As the largest company in UK and working as a scientist the universities treated us very well mainly because we sponsored research projects and building links with GEC helped to secure funding. I was invited to speak at Reading, Oxford, Salford and at various partner companies. I always got good responses. I think people were just being kind. I wasn’t a great speaker but gained confidence. My belief system became, “if I am committed I can give a good presentation”

By facing my fear, taking a risk, becoming uncomfortable I was able to give a good presentation. The one decision to take a risk gave me my career. I have given dozens of invited talks, chaired conferences, hosted radio shows and been on TV in many different countries. I have spoken in universities all over the world and in front of audiences consisting of hundreds of people.

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave”- Dale Carnegie

Don’t judge the risk of doing something you fear by how much fear you have or the probability of success. Judge the risk in terms of value of the goal. To achieve any worthy goals you must take risks. Ask yourself, “is the goal worth taking the risk for?” if the answer is “yes it is” then stop worrying and just do it.

“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and gorw and love and live” Leo Bascali

Life is a risk. You could get run over if you cross the road. If you travel by bike, car and aeroplane you could have an accident. There is no safe place anywhere.

Why are people afraid of taking risks?

1. They are scared that if they fail they will be embarrassed. So what if you fail. Step forward and just do it. Success happens in little steps. Even if you take a small step then you have at least made some progress. The only way to fail is by doing nothing.

2. Some people rationalise. “Perhaps it’s not that important, I don’t want to ruin my reputation by failing”. If you wait long enough then nothing is important enough. I have never met anyone who had regrets because they tried something and failed. However, everyone has a regret that they didn’t do this or that. If they did it how their life would be different.

3. It will be too much hard work. Many people have unrealistic expectations thinking that success will be easy. The truth is anything worthwhile requires hard work. Otherwise everyone would have done it.

4. It’s the wrong time. People think that there is a perfect time to do something. They just wait and do nothing. There is no perfect time. The best time is now. Don’t make excuses and just do it now.

5. I don’t have the inspiration. I am waiting for inspiration to write my first article. It will never come no matter how long you wait. You don’t have to be great to get started or do something. However, if you don’t get going and take the first step you will never be great. You must take the first step to be great.

What could you achieve if you were to take enough risks?

Are taking enough intelligent risks to really succeed? I am not talking about recklessness. You may be just keeping within your comfort zone and playing safe. Are you failing enough? If you are succeeding at everything then you are not doing anything challenging enough. You progress will be much slower. Push yourself harder, raise your standards. Aim higher. If at first you succeed try something harder. You must be willing to take a risk to achieve something great. Set a goal, examine it from various perpectives. Is it challenging? Will you have to push past your current perceived limits? Would you have to become a greater and better person to achieve the goal?

“Do not fear risk. All exploration, all growth is calculated. Without challenge people cannot reach their higher selves. Only if we are willing to walk over the edge can we become winners.” – Unknown

Change your response to failure. Change yourself and your world will change in front of you. Get a new attitude towards failure and success. Find the learning experience and benefits in failure that will set you up for success. If you succeed then try something harder and harder.


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