Risk of Patience

RiskPatience

How risk averse are you? It’s in our DNA, actually. While we each are more or less prone to take risks in certain domains relative to others, there is a generally higher appreciation for adventure in some overall. Sometimes we look on from the sidelines, wishing we could muster that, while other times we appreciate the comfort of relative safety. Time is the element that changes us.

I don’t know how many times I’ve sat behind someone at a busy intersection watching their decision making from my perspective. Plenty of gaps in traffic sufficient enough to merge or get across go by, but they sit…and wait…for what seems like the perfect opportunity. Sometimes they get it, and the decision is easy. Other times their patience eventually wears down and the willingness to risk more or be more aggressive rises. I’ve seen people make dangerous moves when a moment before a much easier one was available.

There are few things in life with so little risk that they are no-brainers, and yet we often wait…as if that perfect moment (or the answer) will reveal itself to us. At intersections at least, our willingness to take risk is tied to a combination of our patience and mood. Watching how novices manage stocks or play at the casino is another interesting exercise.

In many situations the actual risk is calculable. It may be changing, but often those changes aren’t so complex that it can’t be approximately worked out in real-time (like the intersection). As time passes without (the desired) results we become willing to risk more. As our situation improves we become more patient. Even when the waiting had nothing to do with the improvement we may simply asses that there is more to lose. The key is in how we weigh the trajectory. If our situation worsens, do we believe it will continue to get worse at the same rate? As the traffic builds at that intersection we know it will subside again soon (barring some other mitigating factor such as a shift ending at a nearby factory or something), but once our willingness to wait is exhausted, aggressiveness takes over.

Here’s another thought. Rationalization. When we’re young we’re generally more willing to take risks. Overall most of those risks work out well enough, even if not exactly how we envisioned them. Gradually we stop taking them, and pretty much stand pat. We have too much at stake now to risk it. We concede to time and the idea of “good enough.” But how much more risky is it really to tackle something with all of the wisdom you can bring to it at an older age than it was when you were a naïve kid? We look too much at what there is to lose, and the fear gets us. It’s like turning around at that intersection and going back home to watch TV.

Time erodes our position. Whatever it is you want to do or become, there is now less time to do, or to enjoy the fruits of it, than a moment ago. The risk in doing it may have increased, but waiting more also increases the stakes. Can we learn to see the truth of this such that we forgo the idea of the ideal moment and just get on with it?

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