Chasing the bears: Why you should always take educated risks in life

One sunny Florida morning, my wife, Lori, and I were sitting at our kitchen table, sipping coffee and reading the newspaper. A big mama bear and three little cubs scampered across our front yard just outside the kitchen window. It had never happened before; our home was miles from any wooded areas. Without saying a word, we looked at each other, jumped up, and quickly ran outside to chase the bears. It might not have been our smartest idea.

Florida black bears can run up to 35 mph. In comparison, Olympic sprinters run only 28 mph. Black bears mind their own business and won’t charge after you—unless you’re foolish enough to chase them. But it was an “educated risk.” If the mama bear decided to turn around and charge after us, I knew the front door to our home was nearby. Plus, I was pretty sure I could outrun Lori.  We never saw the bears again; they had disappeared.

I realized that “chasing the bears” is a metaphor for chasing your dreams. Most people are content to play it safe, and look out their windows as life passes them by. Eventually, the clock runs out. A few people take a risk and chase their dreams. They “chase the bears.”

Every successful person has taken risks. What holds many of us back from taking risks is fear. What if people think you’re crazy? What if your heart gets broken? What if you fail?

Why should one take educated risks?

When I talk about taking risks, I’m not talking about strapping yourself into a rocket motorcycle—like the daredevil Evel Knievel did—and jumping the Snake River Canyon. I’m talking about taking educated, baby-step risks that are aligned with your purpose.

I get it. I’ve been humiliated. I’ve been beaten. I’ve been shot at. And that’s just from my wife after the last boys’ weekend away. In all seriousness, it is true that all of these things are possible, at least temporarily. But it is also true that you’ve got to take chances. You have got to take chances to feel alive. You’ve got to take chances to experience true love.

Jim Carrey is a great example of why you should take an educated risk. Carrey’s father could have been a great comedian but instead took a “safe” job as an accountant. When Carrey was twelve years old, his father got let go from the job, and the family struggled to survive.

It taught Carrey a valuable lesson: “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” With this lesson in mind, the young Canadian actor and comedian took a chance and moved to Hollywood to pursue his dream.

Before he became famous, Carrey wrote himself a check for $10 million for “acting services rendered” and dated it Thanksgiving 1995. He kept the check in his wallet and imagined movie directors wanting to work with him. Just before Thanksgiving 1995, he was offered the lead role in Dumb and Dumber for $10 million. When his father passed away, Carrey slipped the check into his casket as a final tribute to the man who inspired his success.

Why is it okay to fail?

You can fail and win anyway. I was fired from Wendy’s when I was in high school. The manager said, “You don’t have what it takes to make it in fast food.” Eventually, I went on to get elected to the United States Congress in 2000 and served eight years. There were three of us were running in high-profile races for seats in the United States House of Representatives back in 2000: me, future Vice President Mike Pence, and a guy from Illinois.

I won. Pence won. And the Illinois guy lost by thirty-one points. I wondered, “What happened to that guy?” And then I saw him years later. It was in the checkout line at agrocery store. He was smiling ear to ear on the cover of People magazine. His name is Barack Obama.

He’s the guy who “failed” in 2000. I guess he turned out all right after all, with one Nobel Prize, two terms in the White House, and three number-one New York Times bestsellers.

I served with Barack Obama in Congress for four years (2004–2008). He is, of course, a gifted speaker and was able to bounce back nicely after losing his first race for Congress, but his setback was not unique at all. George W. Bush lost his first race for Congress, too.

Mike Pence lost his first two races for Congress. Abe Lincoln lost five elections before he captured the White House.  In fact, during my lifetime (1964 to the present), 100 percent of the presidents of the United States have lost an election at some point in their career.

What are some of the famous failure success stories?

The point is that setbacks happen to everybody. But they’re just temporary. So keep going. The comeback is stronger than the setback. Let me tell you about some famous “failures”:

  • Walt Disney was fired at age 22 for not being creative enough.
  • Martin Luther King Jr’s teacher have him a “C” in public speaking.
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
  • Oprah Winfrey was told that she was “unfit for television news.”
  • The Beatles were told by a record company that they didn’t have what it takes to make it in the music business.
  • K Rowling was a 29-year-old single mother on welfare who was rejected by the first twelve publishers. Her “Harry Potter” book series has sold over 500,000 million books.

Here’s what I know for sure. If you are aligned with your purpose and use your gifts, then yes, you will still stumble from time to time and experience temporary setbacks, but you will never fail on any permanent basis. It’s not too late. You can still be what you wish to be.

Colonel Sanders didn’t open his first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise until he was sixty-two years old. Take some educated risks and don’t let the critics hold you back. Also, when you get the choice to “play it safe” or chase the bears—I hope you chase the freaking bears!

Former Congressman Ric Keller served eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives. He chaired the House Higher Education subcommittee and served on the Judiciary and Education committees. Today, he is an attorney, writer, humorist, motivational speaker and television commentator. His TEDx Talk, “The Power of Self-Deprecating Humor,” was the sixth most-watched TEDx Talk in the world in May 2022.