Experience shows that the magic in life takes place at the edges of our comfort zones. By science [1], we know our minds grow by expanding our boundaries, trying new things and having some adventure. If we want to have a happy retirement, why then do many retirees spend so much time avoiding the things that we know bring happiness and make like worth living? What keeps us from growth?

I often hear from people who congratulate me for being brave or fearless, and I appreciate it, but I am nothing of the sort. Overcoming and rationally assessing fears is hugely different than being fearless. I have no desire to be fearless, but I strive to keep my fears in perspective. The only adults I have known who were truly fearless were psychopaths or ones who had had their judgment temporarily impaired by some form of “liquid courage.” I don’t recall good outcomes for any of them.

The trail we trekked in Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, China

The trail we trekked in Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, China

Always living on defense as the clock, (the biggest thief of dreams) ticks down is not the recipe for an extraordinary life. We put things into perspective and calculate our risks keeping in mind that, long term, for a fulfilling life there nothing riskier than complacency and stagnation. Living our dreams is seldom without risk, but the biggest risk of all is never giving our dreams a chance.

The world changes. We need to continually assess and make choices about how we will react to that change. Yes, choices always come with risk, but they also bring opportunities. Failing to evaluate and perpetually staying the course results in either getting hopelessly lost or stagnating. I find the unhappiest, most bitter people that I know are those who have not adjusted while the world changed around them; Those who are unwilling to risk reevaluating their fears and prejudices; Those who seek only confirmation of what they already know and are unopen to other viewpoints. Instead of expanding their worlds, everything gets smaller and more frightening.

If you want to live large, begin by evaluating your fears and strive to overcome the irrational ones that are holding you back. If you dream of a different or happier life but don’t risk change, nothing new is going to happen. Taking calculated risks emboldens us, keeps us engaged and exposes us to new horizons. As Bob Dylan said, “He who is not busy being born is busy dying.”

Many retirees reach a certain level of comfort then expend little effort other than trying to sustain their comfortable plateau. They live in fear of losing what they have instead of recognizing the heights they can achieve just by opening their minds and expanding their comfort zones a bit. The settle for “good enough.” Instead of risking change, they short change themselves by desperately clinging to their version of the status quo.

Bad things happen. They happen to everyone. But, by prioritizing security over being “busy being born,” our world shrinks, and we stagnate. Heller Keller put it better than I ever could when she said, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

So, begrudgingly, I will admit that I do take a few more risks than other people, but they are analyzed and weighed against what I see as unhappy alternatives. In the end, we all wind up at the same place. You can spend your existence limiting yourself and giving into your fears, or you can learn to control them and greatly enrich your life. Again, this is a choice.

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