Archive for September 1st, 2013


“Life is a laboratory, an experiment of nature, and many things fail. … We must be able to say of certain things, “I will try it even with the conviction that it might be an error.” Only when you live in this way can you make something of life, perhaps today one way, tomorrow another.”

C.G. Jung (1929)

I recently came upon these words and something stirred within me. As I look back on my life I realize that so much of my development was linked to a willingness to take risks. I remember my analyst once saying to me, “Jeff, sometimes you just have to step off into the abyss.” How true this was for me at that time in my life. I was reluctantly holding back from what I was being called to become, because it did not seem rational. Therein lies the problem, for Jung states that for the, “… [rationalist] things must be safe, ‘no risks please.’” Our culture is one obsessed with success. Every decision we make, every action we take must be successful for ‘failure is not an option.’ This attitude instills tremendous fear and anxiety in us. I see this especially in young people who would rather not try for fear of failing. They want to get the ‘right’ answer with their very first attempt, rather than feel humiliation for having failed. It is terrible that we instill within our young such beliefs. Many carry this fear into adulthood and end up living a ‘provisional life,’ a life of just getting by. Most who live this safe life know that something is missing, but cannot figure out what.

Avoiding risks may keep us from our greatest passions and personal discoveries. As a scientist I learned so much from trying and failing. I found that my failures truly were my greatest teachers. I just needed to listen to what they were saying to me. Edison once said regarding his discovery of the light bulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” When we hear the voice of reason saying, ‘no risks please.’ We need to step back and look at where this is coming from. Certainly this may be excellent advice that we need to heed. But, if our fear of taking risks is keeping us from living a fully engaged life, then we must question our fears. My becoming an analyst began with stepping off into the abyss. At that time in my science career, it certainly was not the rational thing to do, but definitely the right thing to do for my soul. Now, I sit with people who are facing their own fears, while they ask, “Is it time to take a risk?”

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