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Learning to Take "The Right Risk"

Talk about learning from the master! Bill Treasurer is uniquely qualified to talk about risk. For seven years, he literally took giant leaps with his life as a member of the U.S. High Diving Team, where he performed more than 1,500 high dives into waters 100 feet below—the equivalent of a 10-story building! And as "Captain Inferno," he often dove while engulfed in flames.

Now working in the somewhat less risky field of corporate consulting as founder of Giant Leap Consulting, Treasurer has written a deeply personal, passionate book, The Right Risk, that will help people muster up the courage to take more risks, and, more important, to learn how to figure out which risks are the Right Risks.

Treasurer defines Right Risks as "those that, regardless of outcomes, are always deemed successful because they are taken with a clean conscience and clear calling." Right Risks are always based on what is right for the individual and are, says Treasurer, "as unique to the risk-taker as a fingerprint." Treasurer's Four Hallmarks of "Right Risk":

1. Passion—it arouses your spirit
2. Purpose—it will help you progress to a higher order or goal
3. Principle—it is anchored to your deeply rooted values
4. Prerogative—it stems from your own free will

Shari Lifland interviewed Bill Treasurer to learn more about the notion of "Right Risk."

AMA: Webster's defines risk as "the chance of injury, damage or loss." How do you define risk?

Bill Treasurer: It depends on whether we're talking about a Right Risk or a Wrong Risk. I define a Right Risk as the "application of courage" or "courage in action." Conversely, I define a Wrong Risk as the "application of foolishness" or "foolishness in action."
Incidentally, the word "risk" comes from an old Latin word, "riscare." And it doesn't mean harm or danger. It means, "to dare." So there's always been an element of daring when it comes to risk.

AMA: In Right Risk, you state that in today's uncertain world, "those who play it safe may be in the greatest danger." How so?

BT: Every risk can be split in two—the risk of action and the risk of inaction. Too often we assume that inaction is the safer path. And in the short run, it may be. But inaction is like a slow-acting gas that, at some point, can render us unconscious. A lot of people stay in jobs that are no longer challenging just because "it puts food on the table." To me, that's a slow, suffocating death.

AMA: In your career as a high diver, you executed over 1500 dives. And yet, you maintain that you were (and to some extent, remain) afraid of heights! How is this possible?

BT: Yes, it is true, I am a high diver who is afraid of heights. Most people judge their risks according to their fears. When we are confronted with a risk, it presents us with an opportunity to walk through our fears, lessening the fear's power over us. But it doesn't mean that you will eradicate the fear altogether.

While I am still afraid of heights, that fear no longer debilitates me. So now I am capable of going to the top of high places and enjoying the beautiful view.

AMA: Do we really need to take risks? What's wrong with staying within the comfort zone?

BT: Yes, we do need to take risks. The term "comfort zone" is really just a gussied up euphemism for fear. But here's the thing. You already are taking risks! It just doesn't seem like it because it is that area of your life where you've got the most confidence. It is the thing that comes easy to you, your "second nature." So my suggestion is, rather than hiding behind the excuse of your "comfort zone," learn to borrow from your Risk Confident Domain (RCD).

Here are some suggestions:

• Get a coach
• Break the risk down into smaller, more manageable steps
• Visualize a positive outcome
• Practice, practice, practice
• Recite positive affirmations
• Talk to experts who've taken the risk you are challenged with

AMA: Are there some people who are genetically predisposed to find risk attractive? (And others who naturally avoid taking risks?)

BT: Yes, but genetics only explains about 10% of risk-taking behavior. Apparently some risktakers have a slightly longer form of a specific dopamine receptor gene. Dopamine is a powerful opiate-like substance that the body produces when hyperstimulated. So some people literally "get off" on risk. But again, it is a very small portion of folks.

Other research suggests that the resting autonomic systems of risktakers are lower. They have lower resting heart rates and lower blood pressure (this is actually true in my case). Researchers believe these people may end up seeking out risky situations so they can turn up the volume of their lives. Conversely, people who notoriously avoid risk often have a higher resting autonomic system. They avoid risk, because they're afraid they'll overload. I had a boss, for example, who was constantly catastrophizing about "what could go wrong." To me, that's joyless.

Keep in mind, however, that I do not subscribe to the notion of a universal risk-taker. The truth is, we all take and avoid risk. Some play it fast and loose with their finances, but wouldn't dare travel overseas alone. Others may voice a bold opinion, but are afraid to get on an escalator. I have a good friend who is a federal agent—a rough and tumble guy who carries a gun on his ankle. But he has difficulty telling his wife he loves her. All of us are high divers and low divers.

AMA: What do you hope your readers will take away from Right Risk?

BT: There are a lot of voices out there promoting "risk management," where the primary obsession is how to control, minimize and mitigate risk. So far as I know, Right Risk is the only book that deals specifically with how to take a risk. I want to suggest a new field: Risk Leadership. Risk Leadership comes with a new presupposition—that people and organizations grow to the extent that they risk deftly.

Finally, I want people to stop selling out and stop betraying themselves. To live a meaningful, fulfilled and relevant life, you have to take the risk of committing yourself to being who you are meant to be, regardless of what others think.

So in the end, the final messages are: Trust yourself and be yourself! Don't let the risk you regret the most be the one you didn't take!

About Bill Treasurer: Treasurer is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting (www.giantleapconsulting.com) where he helps individuals and organizations take smart, spirited risks in pursuit of their goals. He is also a writer, speaker, trainer, coach, and consultant. He lives outside of Atlanta. He can be reached at btreasurer@giantleapconsulting.com.