Embracing the Risk Inherent


When I was in the sixth grade, I desperately wanted the role of the lisping Winthrop in my school’s production of The Music Man. I can’t explain now why I had that inner urge (I’m not sure I had even seen a play before then), but perhaps it was because I shared Winthrop’s shy, self-conscious demeanor and saw myself in his struggle to come out of his shell. I auditioned and got my first taste of rejection. I didn’t even get cast in the chorus. I can still remember the hollow pit in my stomach as I watched the musical, unable to enjoy it the way my fellow audience members did.

It was a whole year before I had the opportunity to audition again, this time for Anna’s son Louis in The King and I. It was a nerve-wracking experience, but I got the part, and the experience on stage was everything I’d imagined it to be. I’ve been in love with acting ever since.

Today, I still act, but I’ve raised the stakes to a level I couldn’t have comprehended when I was that seventh-grader. I’ve just moved to Los Angeles to explore the Hollywood acting business. It’s only temporary, but it means uprooting myself from my wife, who has been incredibly supportive of this venture. I’m also away from the comforts of home, although the discomfort is as minimal as can be because I’m living in my sister’s home and I’m able to continue my writing while I’m here.

Everything I just mentioned involved risk. Of course, it’s not risk in the sense we normally think of it. My life was never in danger; I didn’t fear bodily harm. But a devastated psyche can be even more painful and difficult to recover from. As soon as I auditioned for the first time, I was risking rejection, being told I wasn’t good enough, or at least not as good as the actor who got the role. To get the part of Louis, I had to put myself at risk again.

We constantly face risks. Should I risk leaving the steady job I have now to take a new job offer? Should I ask the cute girl out on a date and risk getting snubbed? Should I get up on stage and risk making a fool of myself? But if I don’t take the new job, I’m at risk of missing a golden opportunity. If I don’t ask the cute girl out, I risk not being with the eventual love of my life. If I don’t go on stage, I risk not exploring a new side of me that will make me more fulfilled.

Being a writer is rife with risk. We face rejection on a constant basis from agents, publishers, critics, and readers. We might spend a year of our lives on a project that ends up being a dismal failure. We may fall on our faces in a very public setting, with Amazon reviews broadcasting the results. If I failed in my old jobs, only my immediate co-workers would know it; now my work is out there for the world to see.

Achieving anything worthwhile requires risk. It means leaving the comfort of the familiar, facing the terror of being judged a failure, and embracing the change, come what may.

Stupid risks don’t count. Don’t mortgage your house to buy lottery tickets. It’s the smart risks that are worth taking. Prepare for the risk by doing your homework. Make it a calculated risk by weighing the pros and cons of each alternative. Minimize the risk by setting realistic goals that you have control over: you can deliver a novel by a certain date at your standard of quality, but you can’t control whether it will be a NY Times bestseller.

I’ve never regretted the risks I’ve taken in my career. Not all of them worked out the way I had hoped, yet I’ve always learned something from them. But of one thing I’m sure: I wouldn’t be a working writer and actor now if I’d accepted the comfort of a risk-free life.


17 thoughts on “Embracing the Risk Inherent

  1. I agree about risks and reading your post made me realize that the risks never really go away. I’d thought with one book out there, my greatest leap would have been taken. But with the next, I find myself on the edge of the same cliff only this time there are more people watching, wondering if I’ll make it.

    But you’re right, if we don’t put ourselves on the line, our great achievements are less likely to come.

    But not mortgaging the house for lottery tickets? Now you tell me…

  2. Have courage and go forth! And don’t look back . . . or down.

    “Life is on the wire, the rest is just waiting.”
    — Karl Wallenda

    The master put it best:

    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
    Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
    This day shall gentle his condition;
    And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
    Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

  3. Reading your post on taking risks really resonated with me. I read about Matthew Quick, the author who wrote Silver Linings Playbook. He was a tenured teacher at a university, teaching writing, but hadn’t written a book. He felt like a fraud, so after a lot of soul searching, he quit his job. He made a trip to the Amazon & lived in a basement of a relative to write the book.

    It takes a lot of guts to do what you’re doing, but unless you try, you will never know what might’ve been. Wishing you the best, Boyd.

    • Thanks, Jordan! I think the sad thing is that most people don’t see the opposing risk they’re taking by not going for their dreams. Will they look back on their lives when they’re eighty and have regrets?

  4. My fav saying is that you miss 100% of the pitches you don’t swing at.

    First, break a leg and I mean that.

    I took the partial scholarship to the high end private school knowing I would be able to make up the difference. I smooth-talked my way into a campus interview for summer interns and got a full-time offer (highest $$ in my major that year). I quit that job 5 years later to go to law school. I made a living as a part-time lawyer/part-time picker/ebay hustler. I drove to Houston from Kansas because an agent I really wanted to meet was at a conference. And now it’s time to get this book out. I’ve lived risk. But it has rarely been impetuous (okay, that Chicago thing was really stupid), but instead thought out. I thinkthinkplanplan and then, out of the blue, pull the trigger.

    Go for it. If you bat 350, they put you in the Hall of Fame.


  5. Non-stupid risks reap rewards. Sometimes those rewards aren’t what we expected, but there they are, nonetheless, in lessons learned, relationships forged or enriched, experiences added to the jigsaw puzzle of our life.

    Good for you, Boyd! I enjoy the audition process. Not as much as the performing process (the stage, for me), perhaps, but auditioning keeps me sharp and I have fun putting it all on the table.

  6. Outstanding Boyd, absolutely outstanding. I salute you deeply for doing what I have yet to step into.

    A few years back my friend Jimmy Yi made the same leap you are making. We are same age, both trained and educated in different career stuff (he a pastor, me an IT guy). We also both preferred the actor life, at least in our dreams and we shared plenty stage experience in small time stuff and dreams of that big discovery.

    One day nine years ago, at age 37, Jimmy decided it was his break moment. He jumped out of the career he’d spent the last 19 years training for and stepped onto the stage of full time acting, knees shaking, wife insisting she could make plenty enough for them to live on while he pursued his dream. I on the other hand, sat back and said”…ehhh…. you go on. I’ll keep my cozy guv job.”

    Now, Jimmy makes a living in Vancouver BC doing theater, US & Canadian television shows and commercials, and voicing translations of Japanimation cartoons into English.

    Me, well, while I’ve got a few books under my belt, and am really enjoying this audiobook gig while still working that same guv job I am also thinking often, “How much farther would I be had I stuck with Jimmy’s path?”

    Oh well, late start is better than no start. Just means I’ve got to run faster than I would’ve had I started back when it was before now. And if the day comes that I bravely leap into it like you have, I will have to work real hard not to be typecast as the heavy set middle aged guy in anything I may do.

    Here’s to you Boyd, I raise my glass in your honor and can’t wait to see whatever you end up in. Already waiting to hear your Academy acceptance speech.


  7. Good luck to you on your new endeavor! When I was young I thought nothing of being a risk-taker and lived better for it. Then I “settled down” and became a “responsible” adult (read boring) unwilling to give up the bird in hand. Now that I’ve been forced into retirement, I’m seeking that devil-may-care attitude again where I won’t be so afraid of success or failure.

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