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RISK Qu ...

Posted Jan 14 2009 7:40pm


Question: What would I do if I didn't have to do it perfectly?

Answer: A great deal more than I am.

We've all heard that the unexamined life is not worth living, but consider too that the unlived life is not worth examining. The success of a healing recovery hinges on our ability to move out of the head and into action. This brings us squarely to risk. Most of us are practiced at talking ourselves out of risk. We are skilled speculators on the probable pain of self-exposure.

"I'll look like an idiot," we say, conjuring images of our first acting class, our first hobbled short story, our terrible first drawings. Part of the game here is lining up the masters and measuring our baby steps against their perfected craft. We don't compare our student films to George Lucas's student films. Instead we compare them to Star Wars.

We deny that in order to do something well we must first be willing to do it badly. Instead, we opt for setting our limits at the point where we feel assured of success. Living within these bounds, we may feel stifled, smothered, despairing, bored. But, yes, we do feel safe. And safety is a very expensive illusion.

In order to risk, we must jettison our accepted limits. We must break through "I can't because..." Because I am too old, too broke, too shy, too proud? Self-defended? Timorous?

Usually, when we say we can't do something, what we mean is that we won't do something unless we can guarantee that we'll do it perfectly.

Working practitioners of the arts know the folly of this stance. There is a common joke among directors: "Oh, yeah. I always know exactly how I should direct the picture - after I'm done directing it."

As blocked artists, we unrealistically expect and demand success from ourselves and recognition of that success from others. With that as an unspoken demand, a great many things remain outside our sphere of possibility. As actors, we tend to allow ourselves to be typecast rather than working to expand our range. As singers, we stay married to our safe material. As songwriters, we try to repeat a formula hit. In this way, artists who do not appear blocked to the outside eye experience themselves as blocked internally, unable to take the risk of moving into new and more satisfying artistic territory.

Once we are willing to accept that anything worth doing might even be worth doing badly our options widen. "If I didn't have to do it perfectly, I would try ..."

1. Ballroom dancing

2. Stand-up comedy

3. Whitewater rafting

4. Figure drawing

5. Figure skating

6. Water ballet

7. Trapeze

8. Puppeteering

9. Learning to shoot video

10. Wearing red lipstick

In the movie Raging Bull, boxer Jake La Motta's manager brother explains to him why he shoudl shed some weight and fight an unknown opponent. After an intricate spiel that leaves La Motta baffled, he concludes, "So do it. If you win, you win, and if you lose, you win."

It is always that way with taking risks.

To put it differently, very often a risk is worth taking simply for the sake of taking it. There is something enlivening about expanding our self-definition, and a risk does exactly that. Selecting a challenge and meeting it creates a sense of self-empowerment that becomes the ground for further successful challenges. Viewed this way, running a marathon increases your chances of writing a full-length play. Writing a full-length play gives you a leg up on a marathon.

Complete the following sentence: "If I didn't have to do it perfectly, I would try ..."
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