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Are you a risk taker?

Published August 02. 2014 09:00AM

When my husband reads something he finds interesting in the newspaper, he often reads part of a story aloud to share it with me.

He recently shared a survey that tested people of all ages for their risk tolerance or risk avoidance.

The conclusion: the younger you are, the more willing you are to take risks.

Specifically, the article zeroed in on financial risk tolerance. One point it mentioned was that many younger people were more willing to take financial risks even though they didn't fully understand financial basics. While older people scored a bit higher on knowing investment basics such as the intricacies of bonds versus stocks, they were less likely take what they considered to be a financial risk.

I can see where that makes sense. Older investors know they have less time to recover from any market loss after they no longer have a steady income.

But it isn't only in financial matters that seniors are more reluctant to take risks. It carries over to all aspects of life.

Studies show the older we grow and the more experience we have, the more we try to avoid risks.

While I can see where age and experience make a difference in how we approach risk, I also think personality enters into it. Some of us just seem to have been born more cautious than others.

For me, I can't ever remember being a risk taker. But maybe that's just my faulty memory, because my friends think I do take big risks.

People tell me they think I was taking quite a risk when I sold my Pennsylvania house, loaded up the car and moved to Florida.

At the time, I knew absolutely no one in my new town. Heck, the first time I drove to the store at night, I couldn't even find my way home again.

Maybe that move was a risk. But it seemed like the right thing to do. Since then, I've never been sorry.

As I look back at big changes in life, I can see where older generations were chagrined by what they considered to be too much risk.

Decades ago, when my schoolteacher husband was offered a promotion to high school administrator, his father was alarmed. "Don't take it," he said. "You'll lose your tenure then you'll lose your job."

My father-in-law, like many in his generation, believed in safety first. Keep the job you have. Don't take the risk of getting another one.

Then overnight, or so it seemed, our children grew up, married and had families of their own.

My daughter Andrea's husband had a great job working for NFL Films. When he said he was leaving that job to go out on his own, my husband and I were alarmed. We trembled at the thought of the risk he was taking. All the way home we talked with trepidation about all he was giving up.

Turns out my son-in-law was right. He did much, much better on his own.

While there are definitely generational differences in attitude toward risks, we each have a different version of what is risky.

Some of my friends tell me I'm taking too much risk when I go biking. I might fall and do some serious damage, they say.

Well that could happen with every simple thing we do.

A friend's husband was changing a light bulb in their home, using a small stepladder. While reaching too far, he fell off the ladder, hit the counter and broke some ribs. One rib punctured his lung and he ended up in the hospital on a respirator. All from changing a light bulb.

My friends also tell me I'm taking insanely too much risk because I kayak in water where alligators are. Actually, alligators swim in just about every body of water in Florida that isn't saltwater. They've even been known to appear in backyard swimming pools.

Sooner or later we realize much of life involves risk, whether we want it or not.

Getting married is a risk. If we look at divorce statistics, it appears that picking a life partner is probably one of the riskiest things we can do.

Investing your money is a risk. I used to say I never gamble until I realized having money in an IRA is a gamble. Not having one is a bigger risk, but that's another story.

Every time we get behind the wheel of a car we're taking a risk. I feel safer kayaking in the water with alligators than I do driving the speedway we call the Interstate.

So I guess we're all risk takers. We just vary by the degree of risk we are willing to take.

I just interviewed a church pastor who told me he and his wife call themselves "cliff jumpers" because of the way they dive into risks most people would avoid. Both in their personal and professional lives, they embrace risk in a way I would never consider.

The pastor agreed to leave his thriving, well-established church to lead a church bleeding money and facing immediate bankruptcy.

Although others said he was crazy to take on the sinking congregation, the pastor said he wasn't averse to taking a risk.

How about you?

How much of a risk taker are you?

Have you gotten more averse to taking risks as you've gotten older?

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