Kayt and her son Chet.
This is a guest post by my friend, sex and science (and sexy science) writer, and former single mom Kayt Sukel. She is the author of THE ART OF RISK: THE NEW SCIENCE OF COURAGE, CAUTION & CHANCE (National Geographic Books, 2016).
Once upon a time, I was a risk-taker.
I threw my arms open to possibility, embracing risk in all aspects of my life—and thought my fearless nature played a big part in my success. I tallied my big mistakes, both professional and personal, like notches on a headboard, believing that my foibles offered me as much, if not more, than my achievements when it came to reaching my potential.
Then I had a baby. And, not long after, I got divorced. All of a sudden, I was a bored, single mom living in suburbia. And I didn’t feel quite so much like a success anymore. I felt more like a cautionary tale.
For a time, as I stared down my long list of responsibilities, I worried that perhaps my freewheeling younger days were what led me to my current state. So I entered what I call my “midlife crisis in reverse.” I did my best to always play it safe. I started turning down work that I knew would invigorate me because I convinced myself I could only manage boring, “reliable” gigs. I refused to date inside my zip code for fear of making a real connection. I stopped traveling as much and doing the things I really enjoy—and, instead, started spending my weekends glued to Law and Order marathons. I became a spectator, instead of an active participant, in life.
And, you know, it was safe. I had enough work to keep me busy. My mortgage was paid on time each month. My son was doing well in school. I was checking all the boxes I was supposed to be checking as a single mom. But, deep down, I was pretty miserable.
Maybe you can relate. I think, often, as single moms, we believe we need to forego risk at all costs. After all, we already made one of the supposedly riskiest moves of all—leaving the financial and emotional security of a marriage. (Never you mind if that relationship wasn’t all that secure in reality). Now that you’re on your own, the weight of the world—and your kids’ world—is firmly balanced on your shoulders. Why try to shake things up and upset what is often a precarious balancing act? Even the idea sounds preposterous.
And yet, opening ourselves up to risk is what we, as single moms, need most in order to find our own personal success and fulfillment—and to help our children seek out the same. Why is that, might you ask? Because it helps us gain the experience we need to make better, smarter decisions.
When you are willing to take risks, and push yourself out of your comfort zone, you learn how to adapt your behavior to better weigh risks against the consequences of your actions. And that, according to scientists who study risk-taking behaviors, will help you, over time, learn how to make more optimal decisions. The kind of decisions that will help you build a solid, fulfilling career—and raise thoughtful, self-aware kids.
Being a “wealthy” single mommy isn’t just about the Benjamins—though, admittedly, a nice income is a fantastic perk. It’s about living a life rich in friendship, love, productivity, culture, good works, and laughter. It’s about teaching your children to aspire to the same. And, alas, living a vital, engaging, and—yes—wealthy life is impossible without embracing risks. They are smart risks, reasoned risks—but they are risks all the same.
I’m glad I figured that out before I got too set in my “safe” single mommy ways.
Kayt Sukel is the author of THE ART OF RISK: THE NEW SCIENCE OF COURAGE, CAUTION & CHANCE (National Geographic Books, 2016) and THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON SEX (Simon & Schuster, 2013 )
What do you think? Are you taking enough risks in your life? What do you need to learn to take smarter risks and reap the benefits for you and your family? Share in the comments!