Photo by: Nicki Varkevisser, Flickr

On a recent shopping trip to Trader Joe’s, I bought a package of smoked oysters. As the check-out clerk scanned it he mentioned he had recently tried smoked oysters for the first time. Then he said, “I was intimidated to try them, and now I can’t believe I haven’t been eating these all along!”

Does that strike a chord for you? It did for me. How many years of enjoyment did that guy miss by being intimidated to try something new and unfamiliar? It’s easy to avoid taking risks. There are lots of great reasons to play it safe. But when we take the safe path, we exclude ourselves from a world of exciting, interesting, pleasurable activities. I, myself, am a fairly cautious person. I like to be comfortable. I’ve lived long enough to know what works for me, and that’s a great place to be. But it’s important to surprise yourself sometimes.

As a kid, I hated the feeling of my stomach dropping suddenly on tall roller coasters. There were just certain rides I wouldn’t go on at the amusement park. To this day I still get anxious when someone mentions the Demon (from our local Great America). My daredevil younger sister, however, had no fear and I eventually decided I couldn’t let her show me up anymore. Over time, I got progressively more brave with the roller coasters I was willing to ride, until finally I could face a fourteen-story drop with the best of them. Now I love the exhilaration!

When we let go and take a leap of faith, we’re often surprised by how scary it wasn’t and/or how great it was. And we end up with a fantastic new experience or skill we’ve added to our repertoire. Of course, I’m not suggesting you try new things that are actively dangerous or destructive. But a little bit of calculated risk is good for the soul (and the mental health). It reminds us that we’re alive, that we have the power of choice, that we’re able to overcome our own hesitancy when appropriate.

Deliberate and appropriate risk-taking affirms that we have the power to get out of our own way when we need to. And it all starts with a baby step. What scares you, just a little? Eating a new food? Talking to someone new? Learning a new skill? Asking for a raise you know you deserve?

Think of the lost opportunities when you don’t try new things. Think of all the smoked oysters the Trader Joe’s guy missed out on. What is out there waiting for you to discover it? You may be surprised at the cool experiences and skills you add to your collection when you make the decision to take the leap.