During this year, I have learned a lot about how I carry and process the past. At one point, I decided that our experiences can often be put into the two categories of therapy and trauma. At the time, however, I didn’t really know if there was a proactive way to prevent the latter.
That brings me to a book by Henry Cloud, Integrity: The courage to meet the demands of reality. In it, he writes about the difference between a “gamble” and a “risk” and why successful people oriented toward growth are willing to take a risk, but never gamble. “Risk,” he writes, “means that you do something that has the possibility of a bad outcome, and that you embrace that possibility and are OK with it.” If you are not OK with the possible outcome (or, more importantly, if you can’t imagine the outcome), then you are not taking a risk, you are making a gamble.
The important step is learning to distinguish between the two types of choices. I’ve always been told that I wouldn’t grow if I didn’t take a few risks, but I didn’t really know how to do that well. Cloud writes, “People who grow are not afraid of getting out there. But they are not stupid, and they risk in increments. They start small, master that, and move to the next step. As they do, they have grown.” And something that is really important to note is that these sorts of people have already been moving in this direction for a long time. What seems like a rash decision, is often actually quite calculated and reasonable because of the growth that has occurred under the surface.
Unfortunately, sometimes we gamble and we get burned. Sometimes we move in a new direction, but it’s a job or responsibility that is just out of our reach and we fail in a way that we could never have imagined. If you don’t know how or to what extent you might fail, odds are good you aren’t prepared for the move. And, writes Cloud, “If someone cannot withstand the negative outcome, then it was not the kind of character investment that leads to growth.” The failure becomes a sort of trauma in our past that we then need to process, understand and prevent in the future. Then, the next risk will be more calculated and (hopefully) will lead to growth. That will also be therapeutic for the person who has recently failed.
The difference between therapy and trauma is important, but I think what is more important is simply calling it what it is. “That was really therapeutic” or “that was a little traumatic” have become phrases I say and think as I live my life. We will never fully know how each work together to form our experience, but the more aware we are, the more likely we are to see it when it matters.
And hopefully, as we watch ourselves live, we will be more prepared to make the choices that are best and we will be that much more ready to grow.