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Learning to Take Healthy Risks

We asked parents and teens to share what they’ve always wanted to do but were too afraid to try. Plus an expert weighs in on the importance of taking risks.

TEEN ANSWERS:

I would try harder to say what I really believe in. I feel like when I do say my thoughts, I don’t sound as smart as others around me. If I knew that I wouldn’t sound bad and no one would judge me, I would say whatever came to my mind. If I knew that no one would make fun of me, I would say what I believe in.
Sara, Fairfield, CT

I would want to be a lead in a musical or play because I think performing is special and takes a lot of courage. I’ve never had the confidence to audition, but I think I would gain so much. If I knew I couldn’t fail, I’d try out without feeling self-conscious.
Rachel, Moreland Hills, OH

I would move to Paris to try to make a living.
Rachel, Youngstown, OH

I would be more outgoing.
Kim, Chicago, IL

I would do exciting things in life that I’m afraid of now. I would sky dive, live in the wilderness, travel, bounty hunt, etc.
Ashley, Cleveland, OH

I would probably go to school in a foreign country. It is something that I have always thought would be very difficult, but if I had the assurance that it wouldn’t be too hard and that I wouldn’t fail, I would really like to go through this experience.
Elizabeth, Beachwood, OH

I would tell the people in my grade that they need to grow up and stop saying things like “That’s so gay” or “That’s so retarded” and actually make those people realize the effect they have on others. That’s the kind of thing I would want to do, but sometimes I don’t say anything because I don’t want to start a scene.
Carly, Fairfield, CT

l would do everything. I am afraid of trying new things, whether it is tasting a food, meeting friends, or talking to someone I don’t know. I like to stay in my comfort zone. In theory, I like adventure, but I stop myself from taking a risk because I am insecure. I’m afraid of what people might say if I do something out of character.
Yolana, Solon, OH

I have two things I would do. I would write more and share it with others. I’m always nervous and self-conscious about what people will say. Also, I would dance. I love to dance, but I am not good at it.
Moriah, Moreland Hills, OH

PARENT ANSWERS:

I would pursue what I would like to do rather than what is expected and accepted, without hurting those people who have different expectations. Also, I would not have been so self-conscious in college. Lastly, I would have moved away, traveled and worked internationally instead of feeling guilty about being an only child far away.
Dawn, Detroit, MI

I’d go back to school and get my masters in counseling and become a middle school counselor. I love my job teaching but there are days I already feel like a counselor. I just don’t think I could handle going back to school.
Alison, Plano, TX

I would learn to play guitar, write music, and become a famous singer-songwriter.
Jill, Moreland Hills, OH

I would start a rock band.
Amy, North Potomac, MD

I would go after my dream job. Fear of juggling it all (family, work, friends, taking care of myself, etc) holds me back.
Debbie, Solon, OH

I would get married again.
Catherine, Pepper Pike, OH

I would dive with sharks.
Anne, Beachwood, OH

I would be a stand up comedian. I’d race in the Everest Challenge. I would ask my mom more questions about our relationship during my dad’s illness when I was a teenager.
Deborah, Seattle, WA

I would open a clothing store for teens. I thought about it a few times, but never had the nerve to do it!
Amy, Pepper Pike, OH

I would lock myself in a practice room for a year or two or however long it took—no internet, no “jobs to get by”—and emerge as the flute player and musician I know I could be, given enough time to practice. I would put everything I currently have personally and professionally on hold, if I knew that the dream orchestral job would be waiting for me on the other side.
Susannah, Philadelphia, PA

I believe that one of the most wonderful things in the world is witnessing the birth of a baby. As a child I dreamed of being an obstetrician. Unfortunately, my science grades where not good enough. But if I could pursue this dream without failing, I would get so much pleasure out of bringing a child into the world and into the loving hands of its parents.
Heidi, San Diego, CA 

Expert | Kate Eshleman, Psy.D.

Taking a risk is an important part of life. Examples of healthy risks include pursuing an extra-curricular activity or job opportunity in which you are interested, though unsure of your ability level or likelihood to succeed. The outcome in this context matters little, as there is much for you to learn from either success or failure. Success is important and feels good, but if you don’t achieve the initial goal, you can still learn important lessons.

Taking a risk can lead to growth, regardless of the outcome. When your courage leads to success, then the experience builds more self-confidence and self-efficacy. Each success leaves you with a stronger belief in yourself, which will then promote further risk taking in the future. In other words, taking risks helps to extend you beyond the safety of status quo.

There is always the chance that taking a risk will end in failure, but failure, in some form, is inevitable. If you operate too much within your comfort zone, you will develop an expectation that you must be good at everything, which can lead to significant feelings of pressure and stress.

It’s better to learn how to recover from failure and cope with those feelings of frustration and disappointment. Throughout life, you will experience situations in school, work or relationships that do not go as planned. Each experience that falls short of success is your opportunity to develop healthy coping skills. This is a skill that does not come naturally; you must develop and practice it.

Finally, experiences that do not proceed as expected teach us to do things differently in the future. Thus, taking healthy risks and learning from both the successes and the failures is a necessary and healthy part of development and cannot be achieved unless we place ourselves in situations that may make us uncomfortable.

Dr. Kate E. Eshleman

Dr. Kate E. Eshleman is a Pediatric Psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.