Life involves taking calculated risks. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, often the result of risk-taking (calculated and otherwise); but, in order to get through those mistakes, I must keep taking risks . . . below I identify 10 risks every veteran should take.
For the armchair mathematician, a risk may be modeled with a risk/reward trade-off relation. What does that mean? Well, as risk goes up, one would expect that reward should also go up. Unfortunately, not only are increasing risks correlated with greater returns; but, increasing risks are also correlated with greater losses.
This is the great drama that is life: “You gotta spend money to make money.”
And so it goes . . .
When I ask myself how I can make up for all the mistakes I’ve made, three goals come to mind (I call them my fundamental goals):
(o) Obtain as much education as possible
(o) Associate with people who are positive influences
(o) Contribute to the betterment of society
The tasks I’ve determined to be helpful in achieving each of these goals all contain inherent risks.
Below I identify 10 risks that I am taking to achieve these three fundamental goals—pay special attention to risk #7.
(1) Do something difficult. One of the best decisions I’ve made since being out of the military was to use my GI-Bill to study mathematics. I’ve always been a 99th percentile verbal / 67th percentile math kinda guy.
But, when I was presented with an opportunity to use taxpayer money to get a degree, I took this as an opportunity to better myself—to improve those math scores.
Instead of taking the easy way out of college and studying literature or communication (and, no offense to those of you who have done this—I get it), I decided to not only improve my weakest skill-set but to go after it with vigor.
In three years of undergrad I took enough mathematics courses to earn a B.S. in Economics and only fall short of a triple(!) major in Econ, Math, and Data Analysis by two or three classes.
Now, this 67th percentile math guy is getting prepared to enter a graduate program in mathematics . . . and working towards becoming an actuary.
(2) End that failing marriage or bad relationship. Sometimes counseling doesn’t work. Sometimes we married the wrong person. Sometimes we just change. Whatever the reason, it may be necessary to consider that your life may only be improved by putting an end to a domestic relationship that isn’t working.
Sure, it’ll suck. For a while. And, yeah, people will probably cry and things will probably be said that hurt. But, if the love that you two once had is just no longer there, trying to do such silly things as “let’s have a baby and see if it gets better” or “maybe we should try an open relationship” is likely only going to lead to more hurt.
My divorce was a lot like pulling off a Band-Aid (and I don’t mean to be trite here). The analogy is appropriate because it was one of those things that just needed to happen quickly and efficiently.
We had countless (years of) talks and promises trying to figure out why we felt the way we did around each other; but, in the end, we both knew what needed to be done. That said, it took one of us to, again with the analogy, pull that Band-Aid.
It’s more than two years later and I couldn’t be happier than I am in the relationship that I have now.
(3) Move somewhere unexpected (or at least travel). When I told my friends in D.C. that I was moving to a small farm town outside of Minneapolis the most common response that I got was a look of utter confusion—the second most common response was a rather blunt, “Why?!”
Though it wasn’t completely random for me to move to the North Star State (my Dad’s side of the family are Minnesota natives and my Dad still lives here), it did strike people as rather odd that I would choose to migrate from the hustle and bustle of D.C. to the farmlands of Minnesota.
I did it though. Other than wanting to get away from the area where my ex-wife would be (see risk #2), I needed to just totally change my environment. While D.C. is great for many people,—I do miss certain aspects like the Smithsonian and Arlington National Cemetery—I much prefer the pace of the Midwest. Up here the adage “Minnesota Nice” rings true—everyone is so pleasant and there is such a strong feeling of community in the cold climes.
All in all, I probably won’t stay in Minnesota for the rest of my life, I am happy that I took the risk to go somewhere unexpected.
(4) Eat leftovers. This isn’t really going to change your life much; but, we waste so much in this country and food really doesn’t spoil as fast as people think. So, c’mon people, eat your freakin’ leftovers.
(5) Start a business. Whether you decide to do freelance writing as a sole proprietor or you want to own an incorporated holding company, there’s a lot to be learned by starting a business.
When I first thought about going to college in 2001, I knew I wanted to study music but I wanted it to be useful; so, I chose Music Business. Unfortunately for timing (and for not having a little bit of wherewithal) I talked myself out of Music Business because my professors were all worried about this thing called “Napster.” Though the company had been shut down, the future of the Music Business was all but over (as my professors told me—one of my Music Business profs. even decided to move fully over into the movie business due to his fears of Napster).
Obviously, the music business is still alive and kicking (though vastly different from the pre-Napster era), what I didn’t foresee (because I left the business idea behind) was all the upside potential of iPods, ad-based digital streaming, and the success of music blogs.
In addition to increasing your knowledge about how the world works, running your own business gives you a glimpse into what the world can be like when you step out on your own and become your own boss. Perhaps I should put a sub-category to #5: Quit Your Job and Start Your Own Business. While this may not be possible for everyone, it’s an experience that is filled with some very intense emotions and helps to motivate you more than you might imagine. When it comes down to doing the work or the family doesn’t eat—the work gets done! Oh, it feels pretty dang good to work for yourself too ☺
(6) Invest in something risky. To piggyback off of my last point, I had an excellent opportunity to invest in Apple pre-iPod. If instead of putting the $10,000 or so I spent on music equipment and an Apple computer into Apple stock in 2002-2003, I’d have over $650,000 today—and I don’t even want to think of how much that’d be if I had invested the $90,000 that I spent on school during that same period.
Why didn’t I think of this? Well, for one, I had very limited knowledge of the tech industry let alone how the stock market worked. But, more importantly, I was spending money to invest in something that I thought was “safe” (the returns on education over a period of a person’s life have historically been better than the returns on a risky portfolio). If only I had taken a bit more risk.
So, if you have some disposable income and you’re pretty far off from retirement age, why not choose some stocks to invest in. Will it be riskier than contributing that same amount of money to less risky investments (that is, will the downside be higher)? Sure. But, as the risk/return trade-off goes, the potential upside will also be higher.
(7) Learn from others. Sure, as vets, we may be less trusting than the average citizen; but, the truth is, we can’t be experts at everything.
If we’re on a quest to better ourselves by taking calculated risks, it’s going to be necessary to take a leap of faith in others—to learn from their experiences (maybe even their mistakes). Also, by being a constant student of life you avoid shutting yourself off to learning more, not just about the world; but, about yourself.
(8) Do something publicly. I’ve written about my last stand-up performance on this blog before and, well, that was pretty embarrassing and totally a disaster because of bad judgment on my part. That said, it wasn’t my first time being in front of a crowd.
From a young age I was brought up to do competitive sports and, eventually, music. With both of these activities I was called on to perform in front of varying sizes of crowds. During college I did improv for a (short) time, performed in musicals and during pep rallies. In Boston I played music semi-professionally and did a few gigs in various odd places (colleges, studios, etc.).
Before trying my hand at stand-up comedy, I tried doing public speaking a few times. It never went well. In particular I remember trying to give a speech in front of my COMM 101 class at George Mason and trying to still my shaking hands and voice as I spoke in front of 20 or so classmates. It was abysmal.
It was this experience that led me to stand-up comedy. I figured: I didn’t like not being able to do things well; I didn’t speak well in front of people; so, the natural conclusion was that I should try my hand at comedy (probably the most brutal place to learn public speaking).
Surprise! I was pretty bad at stand-up comedy too. And I quit (rather unceremoniously, unfortunately).
So, though I can’t say this is something I’ve mastered, it IS something that I am vowing to get back into. There are great organizations out there (such as Toastmasters) that bring people together who want to better their public speaking prowess. This is my path; but, it doesn’t have to be yours.
The point is, no matter what you do: comedy, music, twirling plates on a stick, try at least one time in your life to do something publicly. If this is a big fear for you, I understand. But don’t let that stop you. Just face that fear head on, try it, get through it, and check the box.
You’ll feel much better once it’s over. Trust me!
(9) Start a blog or at least write a post. In the same way that doing something in front of strangers is very liberating, doing something on the Internet (in front of the world—but, let’s be honest—mostly family and friends) is also liberating. Sure, you may not be a great writer and you may have no idea how to even BEGIN creating a blog. Alas, there is a world of people willing and able to help you get your first blog started and your first post written.
All you have to do is say, “yes.”
See, the thing about sharing your words with the world is that they’re YOURS. You are a unique person—an individual with a lifetime of experiences that no one can take away from you. There has never been another you and there never will be. So, sure, it may be a little embarrassing to tell the world your story (trust me, I am still embarrassed after every article I write, guest post I submit, and every Tweet that I send). That’s just life.
The great thing about blogging is that you get to have the “microphone.” Your words get to come out the way you want them to and you’re in full control of what you say before you click “publish.” The downside? Well, short of saying something incriminating, ignorant, or blatantly wrong, what’s the worst that can happen? Will people disagree with you? Probably. In fact, the more people who read what you write, the more disagreement will surface. That’s just the nature of the beast.
The upside, on the other hand, is that you may find yourself enjoying the art of writing. You may find that you become more expressive about your thoughts and feelings as you write over time. And, because nothing that goes on the Internet ever really goes away, you have a record—a written history—of what life was like for you at a given moment in time.
Who knows? Maybe you were a born blogger!
(10) Become a parent. If you’re not already, then maybe you’re still on the fence about it. That’s OK. But, I will say that being a father has been one of the most exciting aspects of my life—and that includes a life that contained experience in combat AND being a mathlete.
In all seriousness, I can’t imagine a world where I didn’t have a daughter. Though Fiona is only 10 months old she’s the single most important thing that has ever happened to me; I adore her. To take this point to the extreme, I used to watch the show Intervention because I thought it was comical to watch people throw their lives away snorting bath salts or drinking three gallons of vodka a day; but, after having a daughter, I can’t even watch the show. It’s true! Now, when intervention is on, I don’t just see a junkie or meth-addict, I see someone’s son or someone’s daughter.
It’s amazing what kids can do to a person.
As I’m writing this, Fiona is sleeping in the other room (it’s about 10:00 PM). About two minutes ago she woke up screaming—must have had a bad dream or felt a twinge of pain from the teething. Either way, she cried and I knew instantly that it wasn’t a “fuss” cry but a “Hey Dad, are you there? I need you!” cry. Without a thought I just went to her crib, grabbed her up, patted her on the back and told her that I was there.
She stuck her fingers in her mouth and fell right back asleep. Awesome! That feeling—being someone’s protector—it’s so natural. None of the other aspects of having a kid (the ones people complain about like poopy diapers or never getting to go out to eat)—none of that stuff matters when you feel what it’s like to be someone’s parent.
About the Author: Anton Rasmussen is an Army veteran and George Mason University alum. Presently he works as a writer, researcher, and actuarial student. He’s also on a quest to complete seven major life goals at http://doamazingshit.com