The necessity of risk

The Great Discontent recently interviewed design great Debbie Millman, who shared her experiences from 30 years in the business. Here is one passage that particularly resonated with me:

I don’t think you can achieve anything remarkable without some risk. Risk is actually a rather tricky word because humans aren’t wired to tolerate it very much. The reptilian part of our brains wants to keep us safe. Anytime you try something that doesn’t have any certainty associated with it, you’re risking something, but what other way is there to live?

The first ten years of my career were very much organized around avoiding failure, but my inadequacies were completely self-constructed. Nobody told me that I couldn’t do something; nobody told me that I couldn’t succeed; I had convinced myself and lived in that self-imposed reality. I think a lot of people do this. They self-sabotage and create all sorts of reasons for not doing things under the misguided assumption that, at some point, they might feel better about themselves and that will finally allow them to take that risk. I don’t think that ever happens. You have to push through it and do it as if you have no other choice—because you don’t. You just don’t.

Debbie talks a lot in the interview about dealing with rejection, fear, and failure — things we all have to deal with, but don’t like to talk about. And yet in sharing her own moments of self-doubt, Debbie shows that great things come from taking risks — a valuable lesson for creatives at all stages of their career.

For more on the necessity of risk in creative work, check out iA’s Story of a Beautiful Failure and Seth Godin’s Risk, fear, and worry.